Mayor Fenty has produced a plan for closing the District of Columbia's budget gap that would, among other things, cut funding for TANF benefits. The cut would be achieved by reducing the maximum benefits families can receive after they have participated in the program for a total of five years.
This is a backdoor way of changing long-standing District policy. It would have the effect of sanctioning TANF families for being unable to achieve sustained self-sufficiency -- even though, in many cases, their continuing need results from acknowledged weaknesses in the program.
Unlike the federal time limit, the Mayor's proposal would provide no exemption for victims of domestic violence or other cases of hardship. Families would be penalized for any and all barriers to living wage employment, including severe physical and mental disabilities.
TANF families already have to struggle because benefits are so low. The proposed reduction would drop a family of three from 28 percent to 22 percent of the very low federal poverty line. The family would have to try to survive on less than $350 a month in one of the highest-cost cities in the country.
The DC Council has other options for closing the budget gap. Tell Councilmembers to reject the proposed TANF benefits cut.
Photo credit: tdenham
As you know, the reduction would be achieved by an across-the-board 20 percent cut in benefits for families that have participated in the TANF program for a total of five years. This would be a major backdoor policy change.
It would have the effect of sanctioning TANF families for being unable to achieve sustained self-sufficiency. Indeed, it would penalize many for acknowledged weaknesses in the program that pending legislation would help address. It would penalize others for extraordinary barriers to work -- for example, severe physical and mental disabilities.
Moreover, the proposed benefits cut would not, as the budget gap plan alleges, better align the District's program with federal policy. Under federal policy, states and the District can exempt up to 20 percent of their caseloads from the five-year lifetime limit on uses of federal block grant funds. The proposed Budget Support Act provides for no exemption.
TANF families already have to struggle because benefits are so low. The current maximum benefit for a family of three puts the family at 28 percent of the very low federal poverty line. Even with other benefits, including housing assistance, the family is shy $133 per month for basic living expenses. And most TANF families do not receive housing assistance.
The Council has options for balancing the budget without causing lasting harm to poor parents and their children. Please leave the already under-funded TANF program intact.