Last month, the D.C. City Council approved a mix of budget cuts and spending freezes to cope with a projected shortfall in the Fiscal Year 2009 budget. Programs serving low-income and other vulnerable residents bore the brunt of the budget balancing act.
The Council reduced funding for two major programs intended to address the District’s affordable housing crisis. It also eliminated a small increase it had approved for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
TANF is supposed to provide poor families with support that will enable them to become self-sufficient. They get a monthly cash benefit for a limited period of time, usually no more than five years. During this time, the adult recipient must work at a low-paying job or prepare for or seek work. A very high percentage of adult recipients are single women with children.
Anyone who has ever looked for or trained for a job knows that you have to be able to focus on those activities. You can’t if you’re scrambling to stave off hunger and homelessness.
Yet, up until very recently, the District’s maximum TANF benefit for a family of three was $428 per month. That’s less than 10% of what U.S. government data and other reliable sources indicate the family needs to live in D.C.
The City Council had voted to increase TANF benefits so that the family of three would receive $437 per month. According to a new DC Fiscal Policy Institute report, that was barely enough to compensate for lost purchasing power due to inflation. Now the Council has wiped the increase out. So TANF families will be even worse off than they were last year.
The Council voted in haste and without considering alternatives. As they say, haste makes waste. In this case, the waste will be in human lives, economic recovery and progress toward a more just, inclusive community.