DC’s Department of Human Services Could Use $46 Million Right About Now — All it Has to Do is Claim Its TANF Stimulus Funds

DC’s Department of Human Services (DHS) has had a rough going lately.  Its locally funded budget was slashed by $24 million from FY 2009 to FY 2010.  The department has closed two of its seven service centers to save money, making it harder for needy families to apply for cash assistance, health insurance, and food assistance.  DHS has cut nearly 100 of the employees who determine whether families are eligible for assistance, at a time when more and more residents are seeking aid.  And now, the agency is short $12 million for homeless services.

This is an agency in dire need of some cash.

Enter the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund.  This fund is part of the federal stimulus package and helps states by covering 80 percent of increased spending in their TANF programs, so they can serve the growing number of families in need.  The District is eligible for $46 million from this fund.

While many states are moving to claim their share, the District has applied for less than $1 million in TANF stimulus funds.  During an October hearing, DHS Director Clarence Carter testified that claiming stimulus dollars “may not be possible in light of the existing economic realities” and that the department was focusing on accessing an older TANF contingency fund.  However, those funds are expected to run out this December.  We may not have time to apply.

The better approach is to seek the remaining $45 million from the new emergency contingency fund.  To do that, the District must show that it has increased spending on low-income families with children in one of three categories: cash assistance, subsidized employment, or short-term assistance.  There are a number of programs that could qualify, including DC’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, Summer Youth Employment Program, and Grandparent Caregiver Subsidy Program.  The District also can partner with nonprofit and private organizations, as New York recently did, to use their rising expenditures to claim additional stimulus funds.  This would be a great way to help social service providers meet the rising demands they are facing.

DHS cannot afford to leave its remaining $45 million on the table.  The Fenty administration should ensure that DHS has the support it needs to submit its application as soon as possible.