Chairman Graham and other members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Ed Lazere, and I am the executive director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. DCFPI engages in research and public education on the fiscal and economic health of the District of Columbia, with a particular emphasis on policies that affect low- and moderate-income residents.
I will start by congratulating Councilmember Graham on becoming the chair of the Committee on Human Services. As you know, this committee has jurisdiction over agencies that provide vital services to thousands of DC residents, including children who have been abused or neglected, low-income families with children, people with disabilities, and elderly residents. The success of these programs, which depends on adequate funding and effective program design and implementation, is critical to the lives of DC’s most vulnerable residents.
I will focus my testimony on the Department of Human Services, and within that will focus on three key areas: TANF, Interim Disability Assistance, and the Food Stamp Employment and Training program.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
TANF is a critical program for families with children in the District of Columbia. While TANF caseloads have dropped by about one-third since the adoption of welfare reform in the 1990s, TANF still provides monthly support to one of three children in the District. The TANF program helps a range of families, including parents facing temporary unemployment, families with serious employment barriers (such as low literacy or disability) and grandparents raising grandchildren.
TANF also plays a large role in the District’s workforce development efforts. TANF includes an employment readiness component and all families who don’t receive an exemption are expected to participate.
For these reasons, an effective TANF is important to the well-being and future of DC’s children, and TANF is important to efforts to reduce unemployment in the city.
Over the past year, a great deal of attention has been paid to the fact that a large share of TANF recipients has received aid for a substantial amount of time, though not necessarily continuously. While this is a legitimate concern, the discussion of solutions focused largely on setting time limits and imposing financial sanctions, driven in part by a desire to use reductions in TANF as a way to address the city’s larger budget problems. In December, the Council adopted legislation to reduce already-low benefits for long-time TANF recipients and to authorize the Department of Human Services to set new “full-family sanctions” when parents do not comply with work participation requirements.
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