What We Know (and Don’t) About How DC Spends Its TANF Funds

January 19, 2017

Mayor Bowser and the DC Council will soon have to make a critical decision: What to do about the families that have reached the rigid time limit local law sets on participation in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

As I said before, a working group convened by the Mayor has recommended significant revisions to the law. They include both indefinite-term extensions for parents who are complying with requirements set for them and ongoing benefits for their children, no matter what.

This would be probably the single most important thing the District could do now to alleviate poverty. It arguably would save money too — in healthcare costs, for example, homeless services and special education for children who’d suffer brain damages due the high levels of stress that acute poverty can cause.

But sustaining TANF benefits beyond the point that federal block grant funds can be used for them won’t be cheap. So where will the money come from? No one, to my knowledge, has figured that out yet. And it’s certainly beyond my ken.

But it’s worthwhile, I think, to look at where the District’s TANF funds are going now. We have a partial answer from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which publishes annual state-by-state analyses of TANF spending, based on reports states must submit to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Center proceeds from the view that TANF has three core purposes—cash assistance, work activities and child care. These reflect a widely-shared view that the program should serve as a safety net and help parents get (and keep) jobs that will pay enough to make them more self-sufficient.

The District spent only 63.% of its TANF funds, i.e., its share of the block grant, plus local funds, on the core purposes in 2015.

This is relatively more than states as a whole spent. But it still leaves a lot of money to account for — about $99 million, assuming the reported total spending is right.*

Drilling down, we see that the District spent 26% of its TANF funds — roughly $70 million—on cash assistance.

An additional 14% — somewhat over $37 million — went for work activities, most if not all of this presumably to the organizations the District contracts with to provide services that help parents prepare for and find work.

Another 22% — a generously rounded $60 million — funded vouchers that subsidize child care for low-income families. These need not necessarily all be families in TANF. But TANF families are a top spending priority so long as parents fully participate in their required work activities.

The District used 7% of its TANF funds — nearly $18.7 million — for refunds from its Earned Income Tax Credit, i.e., money paid to workers whose allowable income tax claims exceeded their liabilities.

Needless to say (I hope), few of the recipients were TANF parents. As the name suggests, only people with income from work can claim it. They need not be poor or even nearly so. For example, a parent with two children remains eligible until she earns $45,000.

The EITC is nevertheless generally viewed as a powerful anti-poverty measure — in part because it puts money into people’s pockets and in part because it provides an added incentive to work. To this extent, it’s consistent with the over-arching purpose of TANF.

Those keeping track will note that we’ve got about $80 million left to account for — a larger percent than any core purpose received. It’s also a considerably larger percent left over than states as a whole reported.

The Center puts it all but administrative costs into an “other services” bucket. HHS allows states to report some spending as “other” too, but not spending on as many different things as could be left after what I’ve thus far itemized.

So where did the millions go? I asked the Department of Human Services and have thus far not received an answer. I’m hopeful, however, because looking at those “other” items in light of TANF families’ needs seems a useful exercise.

We — and the DC Council — could then better decide if each and every one of those unspecified programs and/or services should continue to receive a share of TANF funds if that means that core purposes don’t get enough.

And should they continue to receive them if the administration and Council then can’t find enough to extend a lifeline to all the at-risk TANF families?

* The Center reports that the District spent about $267 million in TANF funds. This is nearly $100 million more than its share of the block grant, plus the local funds it must spend. The Center accounts for $2 million as block grant funds left over from a prior year, but that obviously leaves more unaccounted for.


State TANF Spending Raises Red Flags As Republicans (Again) Ponder New Block Grants

January 17, 2017

The latest reports on Temporary Assistance for Needy Family’s spending are a timely reminder of what happens when states receive insufficient federal funds and a lot of flexibility in what they can do with them.

Basically, we expect TANF to do two things — serve as a safety net for poor families with children and enable the parents to get jobs that pay enough to make them more self-sufficient. Not necessarily enough to cover all their family’s basic needs, but at least enough to make cash benefits unnecessary.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which analyzes the annual spending reports, translates these expectations into three core purposes — cash assistance, work activities and child care.

The last of these supports the second in that it frees parents to participate in a job training program and/or other activities that will prepare them for work, look for a job and, in the best of cases, actually work for pay.

The latest analysis, for 2015, gives us new numbers that tell the same old story. States, as a whole, spent barely more than half their share of the federal block grant, plus the funds they must spend to get it on these core purposes.

The remainder went for all sorts of things — some closely linked to a core purpose, e.g., Head Start and Pre-K, some to programs and services that don’t benefit only poor families, e.g., child welfare.

States may have used TANF funds to expand such programs, the Center says. In other cases, they merely used them cover rising costs — or even to replace what they’d been spending out of their own funds.

What they invested in core purposes varied enormously. For example, seven states spent less than 10% of their TANF funds on cash assistance, while eleven spent more than 30%.

Twenty-eight states spent less than 10% on work activities and related supports, e.g., transportation. Only five topped 20%. And twenty states spent less than 10% on child care. while nine spent more than 30%.

One might think that states spent less on one core purpose so they could spend more on another. Not altogether so. Two states — Arizona and Texas — spent less than 10% on each of the core activities.

We know how Arizona managed to free up so much of its TANF funds for other purposes. By 2015 it had cut its TANF time limit three times, kicking families out of its program after they’d participated for 24 months. That’s 36 months less than the time limit on their using federal funds for all participating families.

Arizona has since cut its time limit to a mere 12 months, gaining even more funds to cover budget shortfalls — a predictable need because the state has been cutting taxes for years.

The state realized further savings by reducing cash benefits below the low level paid when TANF replaced welfare as we knew it. The maximum a parent with two children can get now is $202 a month — about 12% of the federal poverty line.

An extreme case perhaps, but not altogether unique. The Center reports that Louisiana spent only 11% of its TANF funds on core purposes. Its very low cash benefits — $230 a month for a three-person family — went to only four of every one hundred poor families in the state.

Tempting as it is to trash on these states (and some others), the fault lies with the federal law, which permits states to economize at the expense of their very poor residents.

In a way, it virtually forces them to do this by holding the block grant at the same funding level as when TANF was created in 1996. It’s lost more than a third of its real-dollar value since. So states that want to do the right thing would have to spend far more of their own funds than the partial match the law requires.

We don’t see that in the spending figures. We instead see that states have used TANF as a slush fund — the term that a prolific conservative critic of the program recently used to rebut claims that welfare reform succeeded.

That claim is hardly new. It’s survived a barrage of evidence to the contrary. That’s because proponents in our Congress don’t actually seek to strengthen the safety net and put very poor people on a pathway to steady, decent-paying work.

Nor, for that matter, do they aim to give states flexibility so that they can develop more effective ways to do this. One need only recall the outcries from the right when the Department of Health and Human Services invited states to request waivers in order to test alternatives to the regular TANF work activity rules.

The House Republicans’ block-granting plans are all about cutting federal spending on non-defense programs, especially those that make up our safety net.

This is why we’re bracing for legislation to block grant SNAP and/or Medicaid. Republicans need to find significant savings as offsets for the tax cuts they’ve promised, plus those they’ll achieve by eliminating the Affordable Care Act.

TANF is a harbinger of things to come — unless supporters can galvanize grassroots opposition. This seems to me doable, though difficult.


House Agriculture Committee Finds a Lot to Like in SNAP

January 12, 2017

When I learned that the House Agriculture Committee planned a top-to-bottom review of SNAP (the food stamp program), I thought it was a setup for legislation along the lines the right-wing majority had already teed up.

But the report the Committee recently issued is remarkably even-handed—and very informative. It does flag problems, including some that right-wingers have cited in attacks on our safety net generally. But they don’t support a major overhaul.

In fact, they bolster arguments against the sort that House Speaker Paul Ryan and fellow travelers have proposed. Here are a few of examples.

SNAP Gives States a Lot  of Flexibility

The report details the many choices SNAP affords state agencies. Most have to do with administration—how often they’ll require beneficiaries to prove they’re still eligible, how swiftly they’ll adjust benefits when income changes, etc.

But some are choices that can make more low-income people eligible, within the confines set by federal law. States may, for example, opt for so-called broad-based categorical eligibility, which opens the door to families whose incomes, before allowable deductions (but not after) exceed the standard cut-offs.

This, says the report, is the most significant of all state options. It does, however, note that states may also opt to exclude the value of certain assets that would otherwise disqualify them—the value of a car, for example, money in the bank.

This too makes more people eligible — and more able to both weather emergencies and achieve greater economic independence.

SNAP Affords Ample Room for Civil Society Organizations

Ryan says that the federal government has “crowded out civil society,” discouraging community-level organizations from engaging in efforts to help the poor.

The report emphatically argues that combating hunger in our country requires the participation of federal programs, as well as a range of local and state-level organizations.

It cites examples of the ways that charitable organizations and federal safety net programs work together, e.g., nonprofit food banks, supported in part by the Emergency Food Assistance Program.

And it quotes testimony from a food bank CEO on the need to keep federal nutrition programs strong so that the dollars from private donations can support innovations.

SNAP Is Not a Hammock

The report embraces the unobjectionable view that work is the best pathway out of poverty. But it cites data showing that nearly two-thirds of SNAP participants can’t be expected to work—because they’re too young, too old or too disabled.

Household-level data do suggest that more of the remaining participants could work, but didn’t during an average month in 2015—or rather, could work if the labor market had enough jobs available and they the skills to qualify.

The report could have veered into time limits at this point. It instead finds two areas where states could improve their programs within the law as-is.

First, some need to do a better job of enforcing SNAP work requirements, it says. The requirements it refers to aren’t those that have caused many thousands of able-bodied adults without dependents to lose their benefits.

They’re applicable to all unemployed adults who aren’t exempt for various reasons, e.g., because they’re responsible for caring for a disabled family member.

These presumptively employable adults must register for work, accept a job if offered and not quit voluntarily without good cause or reduce their working hours below 30 per week. So there’s no penalty if they can’t find a job offering a set minimum number of hours.

The report also strongly suggests that some states — or counties within states — don’t have SNAP employment and training programs, though all receive E&T funds.

“Most,” it says, quoting testimony, “have consisted of a referral to a job search program.” So it’s agencies that need to shape up, not SNAP beneficiaries.

The report provides examples of effective programs and hopefully cites pilots the current Farm Bill is funding.

It strongly implies that effective programs combined with “reasonable requirements, strongly enforced” will suffice to engage SNAP participants in activities leading to gainful employment.

“There is little evidence that harsh provisions are necessary,” it says, again quoting testimony.

On the other hand, the report does suggest that SNAP, combined with other safety net programs can discourage participants from working their way up the income scale because what they gain in pay is offset by what they lose in benefits.

To this extent then, it adopts Ryan’s view that the multiplicity of “welfare” programs, each operating under its own rules creates what’s often referred to as a cliff. For him, this proves that they’re a “poverty trap.”

The report instead notes that states may convert the cliff into downward slope by providing transitional SNAP benefits when families leave Temporary Assistance for Needy Families because they’ve found paying work.

And it includes one important data point that argues against the view that SNAP participants choose to remain poor or near-poor rather than lose their benefits. Specifically, most participants remain in the program for, at most, two years.

The Ag Committee Chair clearly aimed to build bridges between his conservative and progressive colleagues in preparation for the next reauthorization of SNAP.

“You will find nothing in this report that suggests gutting SNAP or getting rid of a program that does so much for so many people,” he and the chair of the Nutrition Subcommittee tell us in their prefatory statement.

At least some of us won’t find everything we’d like to have seen. For example, the report touches only tangentially on the adequacy of SNAP benefits, though it includes a section on promoting healthful eating.

But it does, as the statement says, show “there is common ground to be found both in understanding the needs of the population SNAP serves, and in working collaboratively to improve SNAP.”

 


Another Stab at Defunding Planned Parenthood, Another Threat to Low-Income People’s Health

January 9, 2017

Last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan assured reporters that the forthcoming bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act would include a provision denying federal funds to Planned Parenthood. This is supposedly pro-life, but it’s a major threat to the lives and well-being of thousands of low-income women.

Republicans (and some Democrats) have put Planned Parenthood in the bull’s eye because it’s one of the country’s largest providers of abortion services — and in some areas, the only provider.

Yet abortions represent a small fraction of the services Planned Parenthood provides—about 3% in 2014-15.

And those abortions are rarely, if ever, funded by the federal sources Republicans would shut off — Medicaid and Title X of the Public Health Services Act. An amendment routinely attached to spending bills has seen to that.

So the loss of federal funds would deny both women and men other health services — notably, tests and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, pap smears, breast exams and affordable, reliable contraception.

Shrinking Planned Parenthood’s resources would thus increase health risks — and the risks of unwanted pregnancies. The latter, among other things, would keep more women mired in poverty and increase the number of children born and likely to remain poor.

Defunding Planned Parenthood is hardly a novel notion. So we have some evidence of consequences. Texas shifted its family planning funds out of Planned Parenthood in 2013—this after cutting its family planning budget.

Researchers found a 35% drop in the number of women using long-acting, reversible contraceptives supplied by clinics the state funded. The pregnancy rate among women who’d previously used injectable contraceptives—an alternative long-acting form of birth control—rose 27%.

Another study looked at what happened in Texas and Wisconsin when clinics closed because they’d lost public funding. Researchers found that fewer women got Pap smears and breast exams — in both cases because they’d have had to drive much further to get to a clinic.

About 40% of Planned Parenthood’s funds come from Medicaid, through reimbursements, and Title X, through grants. These sources cover care for approximately 60% of its patients—roughly 1.5 million people.

Republicans have said that the funds they’ll deny Planned Parenthood will go to other organizations and thus sustain the services its clinics can no longer provide.

This might be true in the long-run. But it surely wouldn’t before many thousands of women suffered irreparable harms. Professor Sara Rosenbaum, who’s worked with community health services for years, cites three major reasons.

Rosenbaum was responding to a defunding bill introduced in the Senate about a year and a half ago. The House actually passed a one-year defunding bill shortly thereafter.

The Congressional Budget Office assessed that bill and concluded that it would have caused an estimated 400,000 Planned Parent clients to lose access to care while also increasing federal Medicaid costs due to more unintended births.

The fate of these vulnerable people—and thousands who’ll come after—hinges on the Republican leadership’s getting a simple majority of votes in favor of the vehicle chosen to repeal the ACA. Some have suggested they might not get there. A very iffy prediction.

Our incoming President has talked on both sides of his mouth on this, as on other issues. But he’s said he’ll sign a defunding bill so long as Planned Parenthood is involved in abortions.

What this means, of course, is that we’re looking at even worse prospects for comprehensive, affordable health care than what we glean from the ACA dismantling in the works.

NOTE: I’m indebted to posts by Judith Solomon at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities for data and links to original sources on the impacts of the prospective defunding. You can find her latest here.


Devastating Effects of Affordable Care Act Repeal

January 5, 2017

The Urban Institute puts some hard numbers on what will happen if the Republicans in Congress dismantle the Affordable Care Act. They’re shocking.

An estimated 53.5 million people would have no health insurance in 2021. That’s more than double the number who’d have no coverage if the ACA were intact.

Coverage would shrink most for low-income people enrolled in Medicaid, presumably because states would no longer receive funds to cover most of the costs of people who became eligible when they expanded their programs.

They’d be hard put to make up the loss and so would probably set lower limits on income eligibility, cut back on services covered and/or further reduce their reimbursements to healthcare providers.

Looking only at the first of these cost-savers, the Institute estimates that 14.5 million fewer children and working-age adults would have coverage under Medicaid.

The Institute’s estimates do not include the results of converting Medicaid to a block grant, as lead Congressional Republicans—and our incoming President—favor.

His choice for Secretary of Health of Human Services included one in the budget plan he produced while Chairman of the House Budget Committee. It would have cut federal Medicaid spending by a whopping $1 trillion over the next 10 years.

No way that state and local governments could compensate for losses so great. The crunch, however, could well be larger.

An economic downturn (likely) would cause job losses and so make more people income-eligible, even with lower thresholds. The federal government would no longer pick up its share, as it does under the current system.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities used the Institute’s data to estimate state-level losses. Here’s what we learn about the District of Columbia.

In 2019, 32,000 fewer residents would have health insurance if Congress repeals the ACA. This, like the nationwide total, is more than double the number who’d otherwise no coverage.

Nearly 23,500 more residents have gained affordable health insurance through Medicaid since 2013. Many would lose this coverage unless the District used its own funds to make up for the federal funds that would no longer pay most of the costs for the newly eligible. That would require a total of $1.7 billion between 2019 and 2028.

The District would also lose $85 million in funding for its health insurance marketplace. And residents who now have insurance through the marketplace would immediately lose the tax credits that subsidize their costs.

The Center doesn’t estimate how much more they’d have to pay to retain the coverage they have now. It does, however, say that the credits cover 73% of monthly premiums nationwide. Faced with that much more out of pocket, many lower-income residents would presumably forgo insurance.

In short, repeal of the ACA will have devastating effects on low and moderate-income District residents, as it will on virtually everyone but the very well-off nationwide.

Millionaires would, in fact, get tax cuts bigger than the total average income of families in the bottom two-fifths of the income scale. The very wealthiest would get cuts averaging $260,630.

We’re given to understand that the Republican leadership has put repeal at the top of its agenda. It probably won’t, however, impose an immediate death sentence on every provision, what with not having the promised replace.

It does, however, have a bill that Republican majorities have already passed. It would eliminate the two provisions I’ve focused on here—the additional funding for states that have expanded Medicaid and the tax credits that low and moderate-income people get to subsidize the costs of plans they buy on exchanges.

Republicans also, as I’ve mentioned, have the basis for converting Medicaid into a block grant. So they could make a costly down payment on a major campaign promise.

Hard to find a hopeful note to end on. So I’ll borrow from Ron Pollack, the long-time Executive Director of Families USA, a leading advocacy organization for Americans’ healthcare needs.

“One should never underestimate the extraordinary backlash that occurs when people have something they value that’s taken away,” he says.

What remains to be seen is whether they’ll lash back forcefully enough before the affordable healthcare protections the ACA provides are taken away.


DC Set to Make Family Caregiving More Affordable

January 2, 2017

Followers may have noticed that I’ve taken a break from blogging. The rapid recovery I was experiencing after my fall in late November took a 180 degree turn such that I could barely sit due to the pain, let alone concentrate on policy issues.

Ultimately, I wound up back in a rehab facility and have only recently returned home. As I lay in bed there and now sit propped up in a pillow-cushioned chair, I find my thoughts riveted on our healthcare system.

One hardly needs fractured bones to worry about the fate of many millions of people who may no longer have affordable health insurance. I’ll have more to say about this.

But, for the time being, an insight that reaches beyond healthcare policy per se.

During both my brief stays in rehab, I raised concerns about how I would cope alone when deemed mobile enough to return home. The therapists, caseworkers and on-the-scene physician invariably responded with “Don’t you have family?”

Yes, as I suppose most patients do. But that doesn’t mean we have family members who can take on responsibilities for helping us with what the professionals call activities of daily living, e.g. bathing, dressing, cooking, housekeeping.

Lots of reasons that family members can’t become our primary caregivers. They may, for example, live so far away that they’d have to temporarily relocate. They may have children who need their daily care. They themselves may have health problems that limit what they can do.

Not much policymakers can do about these. But they can address one common barrier—potential lost wages or even jobs.

As you probably know, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act protects some workers from the latter. But it covers only about 60% of workers.

Laws in eleven states and the District of Columbia expand eligibility in various ways. But only five states and the District require employers to directly or indirectly compensate workers for any of the wages they lose when they take time off because of illness.

A handful of local governments have more expansive paid sick leave mandates than the state they’re in. But virtually all these laws exclude workers employed by small businesses—in some cases, very small, in others not.

The District also expressly excludes whole categories of workers, including all restaurant wait staff and bartenders who receive the subminimum tip credit wage.

In short, this safety net is a patchwork of protections that force hard, consequential choices between working for pay and caring for sick or disabled family members.

The District, however, is set to join the four states that enable workers to take time off for illness or other compelling reasons without forfeiting the income they need.

The DC Council recently approved a bill that would replace all but 10% of the wages that lower-income workers lose when they take time off to care for family members—not only those who are sick or disabled, but newborns and newly-adopted children.

It would also effectively supersede the paid sick leave exemption for most tip credit workers. And it would cover, at a lower replacement rate, all high-paid workers, as Rachel Sadon at DCist explains.

The bill caps the amount of paid leave workers can claim for each of the specified reasons, allowing up to eight weeks to care for their babies and/or develop a trusting relationship with a newly-adopted child.

Care for the likes of me would be capped at six weeks—a maximum the Council whittled down to add two weeks of personal medical care.

The bill adopts the paid leave model that California pioneered. Instead of requiring employers to pay their workers when they take time off for authorized reasons, it imposes a tiny payroll tax—0.62%.

The funds would go into a pool and then to workers entitled to replacement wages. So all District employers would collectively pay time off for all people who work in the District, except government employees.

The bill is the latest iteration of a proposal Councilmembers have worked on since 2015. It’s proved very controversial—and still is. “This [the final vote] is the battle, not the war, says a member of the DC Chamber of Commerce board.

The Mayor seems inclined to let the bill become law without her signature, thus indicating her disapproval without triggering a vote to override a veto. She clearly views the legislation as unfinished business, predicting the Council will have to revisit it before it becomes effective.

Translating the bill into a viable system would prove challenging, even if the administration wanted to make it work. One can only hope that it sets aside its reservations or comes up with a better solution.

I don’t know enough to know whether there is one. What I do know is that our healthcare system assumes a family caregiving role that our labor laws don’t accommodate.

The lack of paid time off leaves sick and disabled people vulnerable. My summary here indicates other compelling needs that may get short shrift.

But they often don’t because workers (mostly women) quit their jobs or shift to part-time work so they can fulfill family responsibilities.

This puts them at a disadvantage when they’re ready to return to the workforce or full-time employment. And it’s likely to disadvantage them when they’re ready to retire because the years when they earned nothing or very little often become part of the base for calculating Social Security benefits.

In the meantime, families whose breadwinners sacrifice to provide care have to make do with less or no earned income. This is a problem for all working families, but especially those dependent on a low-wage worker.

It’s also a problem for state and local governments because they must make do with less tax revenues and increased needs for safety net benefits.

Ideally, we would have a nationwide paid sick and family leave law. That’s obviously not in the cards during the next four years. So here’s another case where states and the District must do for their residents what Congress and the President won’t do for all Americans.

 


My Blog Turns Eight, Looks Back to Its Birth and Forward

December 6, 2016

Today is my blog’s eighth birthday. I’m amazed that something I started in a fit of pique has lasted so long and become so valued part of my life.

People sometimes ask me how the blog began. So first about that fit of pique.

My late husband and I had a joke about one of our temperamental differences—or rather, a way I’d joke about myself. I’d say, “Jesse, you know I’m the soul of patience, but …”

If I hadn’t become impatient, I wouldn’t have started this blog — or at least, not when and with so relatively little forethought. The leader of a local (now defunct) virtual community agreed to publish posts I’d written to gain more grassroots support for policy decisions an organization I volunteered for was advocating.

But the person who administered the blog took her own sweet time to publish them — no matter how time sensitive. So one day, when another deadline had passed, I said to myself, “Well [expletive deleted], I’ll start my own blog.”

I knew from the get-go that the blog had to do more than replicate action alerts. And I wanted it to do more anyway. I didn’t know quite what, but as title suggests, I carved out broad swathe of territory.

Like many children, the blog has had growing pains, as long-time followers may have noticed. My posts were originally short and easy to write because I generally borrowed from a single source to gin up support for (or against) a single issue.

Over time, I’ve tried to provide more information because that’s what I myself want when I read a post, news article or column about a policy issue. I’ve tried to include links to original sources—again, because that’s what I want.

And I’ve tried, when possible, to show the nexus between developments at the federal level and my local level, the District of Columbia. The challenge in part is that developments at either level link to others — and they to others.

How do I — or anyone for that matter — who chooses to look at poverty in America through a policy lens resist simplistic (if heartfelt) rhetoric or deep dives into the weeds that obscure the main issue? Still haven’t come up with an answer that snaps into place whenever I start drafting.

Well, so much for the strictly me. Here, very briefly, is what I see when I look back to my first posts — and forward to likely fodder in the upcoming year.

The Great Recession had just set in when I started blogging. The District, like all states, faced a pressing problem because tax revenues were dropping and needs for safety net services rising. And like all states, but one, it had to keep its budget balanced every year.

So the District decided, among other things, to eliminate a small pending increase in cash benefits for families in its Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. That occasioned my very first post.

The District only recently put a multi-year increase in place. So full benefits are now somewhat higher than they would have been, if the DC Council had done nothing further.

But, in the meantime, the Council, with the former mayor’s hearty approval, set a rigid 60 month lifetime limit on TANF eligibility. So what’s better for some very poor District families is offset by what’s worse for thousands of others.

Another early post flagged the likely impact of the Great Recession on the national poverty rate and summarized a handful of remedies the federal government could put in place.

We all assumed — rightly — that Obama and the Democratic majorities in Congress would swiftly agree on a legislative package to jump start the economy and expand the federally-funded safety net — in itself, an economy booster.

So we had hope and reasons to believe we’d soon see positive changes. And we did — not only in temporary stimulus measures, but in new and improved programs we thought we could count on for the long-term and rules for existing programs that would benefit lower-income people.

Well, the Great Recession is behind us, though we still have more poor people than we did before it began—largely because we’ve got more people living in the U.S now. We’d have about 38.1 million more in poverty were it not for Social Security and our major safety net programs.

District policymakers apparently will do something to extend TANF benefits for at least some families headed by parents who can’t conceivably earn enough to pay for basic needs — and perhaps for all children who’d otherwise be plunged into dire poverty.

They’re intent on making more housing affordable for the lowest-income residents. They’re making progress toward providing homeless families with smaller, more habitable shelters—and enabling more to remain safely housed.

They’re providing shelter year round for those who can’t, rather than leaving them to fend for themselves unless they have a legal right to shelter because they might otherwise freeze to death.

Not saying all is well, but we have sound reasons for hope insofar as our local officials have the freedom and resources to effect progressive change.

What then to say about prospects for low-income people nationwide? We’ve got a host of predictions — some reflecting proposals likely to become blueprints for legislation, others based on pronouncements and past actions by Trump’s top-level nominees.

I can’t help feeling that we’ll watch the safety net unravel, while knowing it needs strengthening. Can’t help feeling we’ll see other programs that also serve basic human needs undermined — or altogether eliminated.

Neither the District nor any state or other local government can compensate for the multi-pronged attack we’ve good reason to expect — even for just the prospective federal funding losses.

I tell myself to absorb the spirit of the many organizations that have already proved they’re ready to keep fighting on behalf of the disadvantaged people in our country. They’re working together, as they often do, to educate us with less expertise and to help us join the fight in effective ways.

But right now, I’m profoundly disheartened. Yet I know that silence implies consent. So I’ll blog on in hopes of a cheerier future blog birthday.