DC Council: Vote Yes Today to Ensure TANF Family Success

Today, the DC Council will consider a bill to delay looming benefit cuts for more than 6,000 families who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).  Without action, these families will experience a 25 percent benefit reduction next month, before they have even had a chance to access the District’s new, improved TANF employment services.  The “Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Time Extension Emergency Amendment Act” will delay this benefit cut until April 1st to give parents some time to access the services they need to successfully transition to self-sufficiency. 

This bill is the first step in implementing the Mayor’s Accelerated TANF Plan. As we outlined last month, Mayor Gray has identified $11 million in unspent dollars to fund some of the important TANF reforms that were not budgeted when the Fiscal Year 2013 budget was passed. With these funds, all TANF parents will receive a one-on-one assessment by April 1st, six months earlier than the Department of Human Services anticipated. These new assessments provide an in-depth evaluation of each parent’s strengths and barriers to employment, such as low literacy or math skills. Speeding up the assessment process will allow parents to more quickly address these issues and participate in employment services. The capacity of employment service providers will also be expanded by 900 slots, bringing total capacity to 3,900.

The funds will also delay any cuts in cash assistance until next April.  But this is less than the plan adopted by the DC Council, which would delay cuts until next October recognizing that many families need more than just a few months to prepare for and find work.  But the delay was placed on the Revenue Estimate Contingency Priority List, the “wish list” of items that will get funded only if the city’s revenue projections improve.  The District’s Chief Financial Officer forecasted no additional revenue in his June report, due to concerns about worldwide economic conditions and the threat of federal sequestration cutbacks. These are ongoing concerns, making it likely that future revenue projections will also fail to provide additional funding, leaving these vulnerable parents and their children at-risk.

Unfortunately, the newly identified funding is not enough to protect particularly vulnerable families who need time to deal with serious issues that interfere with their ability to work, such as domestic violence or the care for an ill child.  Currently, the District doesn’t require these families to be looking for employment, but each family’s 60-month time limit clock continues to run.  Most states stop the clock to allow families time to deal with these issues.  The Council agreed to this approach, but placed it on the wish list, dependent on improving revenue projections, leaving these vulnerable parents and their children at-risk.

DCFPI encourages the Council to support the “Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Time Extension Emergency Amendment Act” as a first step to help parents on TANF get the resources they need to be successful.  We urge Mayor Gray and the Council to work together to identify $5.8 million to forestall benefit cuts for one full year and maintain benefits for particularly vulnerable families.  By working together, they can keep families on a path of progress and independence.