September 30 is a drop-dead date for some two million poor families nationwide, including about 17,600 in the District of Columbia. It’s also, for different reasons, a drop-dead date for more than a third of these D.C. families.
At the end of the month, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program will expire, unless Congress extends it. Looks as if it will, though for only six months.
Here in the District, September 30 is the end of the fiscal year. The budget that kicks in on October 1 includes a benefits cut for the more than 6,100 families who’ve participated in TANF for more than a lifetime total of five years.
For some of them, it would be a second cut — 45% less than they’d originally received. A mother with two children would have to somehow get along on about $235 a month.
The budget the DC Council passed put a one-year hold on the cuts — as well it should have, since the Department of Human Services hasn’t finished the individual assessments that are supposed to link TANF parents to an appropriate mix of services.
But the hold was contingent on a future forecast that indicated considerably more revenues than the budget assumed.
Ditto for both the additional funds the Council allocated to TANF job training and a reprieve from the five-year time limit for TANF parents who face unusually serious barriers to work.
Well, the last revenue forecast was basically the same as the one before. And there are reasons to believe the next one will be also — if not worse.
Thanks to some smart, persistent advocacy, however, Mayor Gray has found some additional money for TANF in the current year’s budget — $11 million unspent for other programs.
The DC Fiscal Policy Institute tells us that the found money will avert further benefits cuts for half the year, beef up the casework staff to get those assessments done and make it possible for 900 more TANF parents to get employment services.
All this assumes the Council will swiftly approve the Mayor’s proposal. Seems likely, given what it’s already passed.
That will surely be good news for TANF families facing imminent benefits cuts — and for many others, since the extra casework and job preparation funds will take DHS closer to delivering on the program improvements its redesign promises.
But we’ll face another crisis at the end of March because the benefits cuts will go forward again — unless more money is found to postpone them.
If all goes according to plan, DHS will just have finished all the individual assessments. Some parents will have, at most, a couple of months of relevant training before they’re punished for earlier program failures.
And what about the parents who are by no means ready to plunge into an education and/or job training plan that might, in the best of circumstances, move them from welfare to work?
The budget the Council passed included indefinite time-limit exemptions for them — not in TANF itself, but by transferring them to POWER (Program on Work Employment and Responsibility).
This too hinged on a higher revenue forecast. And the Mayor’s found money won’t plug the gap.
So the clock will keep ticking for parents who can’t prepare for work because they’re seriously ill, suffering from the trauma of domestic violence or caring for a sick or disabled family member.
All because the District, unlike a number of states, doesn’t exercise its right, under TANF rules, to exempt them from the five-year time limit till they’re ready to put in the required 30 hours a week on permissible work-related activities.
DCFPI says that the Mayor and Council would have to find an additional $5.8 million to keep benefits flowing to these parents and their children — and give another six-month reprieve to the other at-risk TANF families.
Hard to believe they couldn’t if they cared to. For this, they’ve got some time to look.
But I’m told the Council has to approve the proposal for the found money on September 19 because DHS will otherwise begin reprogramming its computers to effect the benefits cuts.
This then is, in one sense, the drop-dead date for some of the District’s poorest families.