Working Group Recommends Strong Safety Net for Families with Children

A Working Group convened by Mayor Bowser has concluded that the District needs a stronger safety net for children. Twenty years of federal welfare reform – known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF – has shown that that strict time limits often fall on families with serious challenges, that most do not find sustainable employment, and that children often fall into extreme poverty as a result. Here in DC, many families on TANF have disabilities or health problems, and many others use welfare as a safety net as they cycle in and out of low-wage part-time jobs in industries marked by high turnover. When they leave TANF, they often do not leave poverty.

That is why the Working Group called for a policy to guarantee some level of assistance, with no time limit, to ensure families have resources to meet the needs of their children. It also recommended that a portion of the grant – the parent’s portion – should be cut when parents are not taking steps to prepare for work.

Although the District has recovered from the recession, wage and job growth have been very uneven, and the economy is not providing great opportunities for all residents. Low-wage workers have seen their wages fall, and workers with less than a college degree face unemployment rates that are far higher than they were in 2007. About 18 percent of residents with a high school diploma are unemployed, compared with 10 percent in 2007 before start of the recession.[1]

The vast majority of parents who leave TANF for employment earn less than DC’s living wage. A majority earn less than $12.50 an hour and less than $250 a week, according to a survey conducted this year by the Department of Human Services.

The Working Group’s recommendation to maintain assistance for children is not only humane, but smart public policy. Most TANF recipients in DC get no housing assistance and use TANF to pay rent (or help pay rent in someone else’s home). Without this resource, many would be pushed closer to homelessness. Moreover, stable family incomes is critical to creating a healthy environment for children to grow. Boosting a low-income family’s income leads to better performance at school, which in turn higher graduation rates and employment as an adult.

The Working Group’s recommendation is just that. Mayor Bowser and the DC Council now need to turn it into law and provide the funding.

[1] Left Behind: DC’s Economic Recovery is Not Reaching All Residents. Ed Lazere and Marco Guzman. DCFPI. January 2015.