Think Tank Warns 6,000 Families May Be Set Adrift
On March 16, DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI) sent an email to Mayor Bowser and Chairman Mendelson asking that they extend the length of time families are allowed to benefit from Temporary Cash Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The email claimed that without an extension—which 44 states have implemented some form of—6,000 families will be cut off in October.
The District’s time limit policy, which was put in place in 2010, limits the length of time a family may be on TANF to 60 months. According to DCFPI’s proposal, it would be unfair and unwise to adhere to this time limit because many families did not receive TANF’s services for up to 11 months after being accepted into the program. The families received funds when they were accepted into the program, but many did not receive employment services till much later.
Department of Human Service (DHS) officials refute these claims.
Kate Coventry, a policy analyst at DCFPI, said that TANF accepts more people than it has the capacity to fund or serve. She also attributes delays partly to a DHS decision to revamp the services it provides.
“Before these changes, the D.C. TANF program was a one-size-fits-all system. People with college degrees and people with low skills and education were referred to the same service providers for employment help,” Coventry continued.
Everyone already on TANF was assessed and put into the.
“Like most things, these TANF adjustments took longer to implement than originally planned,” Coventry said.
When the city council and mayor adopted the policy that limits how long TANF recipients may receive benefits, the purpose was to close a budget gap during the recession.
According to Coventry, there are currently 17,487 families receiving TANF. If 6,000 families lose their benefits, the result will be more strain on programs such as food banks, emergency services and shelters.
Families that will continue to receive services have been using TANF for less than 60 months or are in the Program on Work and Employment Responsibility (POWER). According to DHS’s website, the POWER program offers specialized services and resources to District residents with disabilities who are receiving TANF benefits.
The mayor is required to submit her proposed budget to the council in the first week of April. If Bowser plans to accept DCFPI’s recommendations, an extended TANF time limit would have to be included in that submission.
The council could also add the extension during their review of the mayor’s proposed budget, but DCFPI would prefer that the mayor include it initially.
“The city council could try to add money when they review and vote on the mayor’s budget, but the mayor has an office that knows the entire budget and a staff of experts on each area that know what money can be moved around,” Coventry said.
DHS reports that it will comply with the law.
“If the Mayor and the Council decide to extend the time limit, then DHS will continue to serve its customers according to the laws of the District,” said Dora Taylor, Public Information Officer at DHS.