On Tap at Tomorrow’s Council Session: A Good TANF Bill and A New Supplemental Budget Proposal

Tomorrow, the DC Council is expected to consider two significant bills: the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Time Limit Amendment Act of 2012 and a new proposed supplemental budget for the current fiscal year. DCFPI strongly supports the TANF bill as a positive step to incentivize work while protecting our most vulnerable families. On the supplemental, DCFPI continues to push for a two-for-two: Two days repayment for the furlough days DC employees took last year and the rest toward the Housing Production Trust Fund.

The TANF bill does several important things. Current law sets a 60 month TANF time limit with current families receiving no benefits after October 2014. This bill ends benefits after October 2013, one year earlier, sending a powerful message that the District expects TANF parents to be preparing for and moving to employment.

Yet it also gives parents time to access improved TANF employment services by delaying for one year a planned benefit reduction currently scheduled for October 2012. DC has begun implementing improved, targeted employment services for TANF parents. Rather than the “one-size fits all” of DC’s TANF services up to this point, the new TANF program uses a one-on-one assessment to identify employment prospects and then provide a set of services tailored to these needs. A pilot showed promising results with parents increasing work participation ten-fold.  But most families will not be assessed or referred to services before they face the October benefit cut.  Those that have been referred have had little time to participate as vendors just stared accepting clients March 1st.  This bill will give them the needed time to access these services. 

The bill also provides reasonable exemptions to vulnerable families, as do most states, to allow them the time to deal with serious issues that interfere with their ability to work such as domestic violence, illness, or caring for a family member with a disability.  DC currently exempts these individuals from work activity requirements during affected months with the understanding that they are accessing services to deal with these issues.  But DC does not disregard these months from the time limit, meaning that parents who are dealing with the biggest issues may have little time remaining to prepare for and train for work once they have addressed these issues.

On the supplemental budget, Mayor Gray has made several changes from an earlier version he submitted to the Council. The amount of money needed to pay back DC employees for furlough days has increased by approximately $2.5 million, to $22.4 million. DCFPI continues to push for a two-for-two, win-win: The Council should repay DC workers for two days and then help DC workers down the road by putting the rest of the money toward the Housing Production Trust Fund. This would restore about half of the resources cut this year from the trust fund, DC’s main mechanism to finance affordable housing.

Another big change is Mayor Gray’s inclusion of funding to delay plans to eliminate the tax break for out of state bonds–a tax break that no other state offers–for a year. Last year, DC joined all 50 states in not giving a blanket tax break to residents who invest in out of state bonds. The Council should hold firm in the good decision they made last year.