The City Council took its next-to-final action on the District’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget last Friday. It went along with a lot, though not all, of what Mayor Fenty had proposed. But it choked on his proposal to impose harsher sanctions on families in the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program. And a good thing too.
As I’ve written before, the Mayor’s proposed budget included plans to reduce TANF benefits by 50% when the adult recipient had been subject to lesser sanctions and still wasn’t meeting the program’s work requirements. If the adult still didn’t comply, all benefits to the family would have been cut off–even the funds to support the children.
The City Council struck these proposals from the legislation. However, this doesn’t mean that the Income Maintenance Administration, which administers the District’s TANF program, has no tools to encourage compliance.
It’s perfectly free to enforce its existing progressive sanctions rules. These allow the agency to reduce benefits so that they cover only the children in the family and for successively longer periods each time the adult fails to comply with the work requirements. If the money’s there, IMA can provide the proposed bonuses for full compliance too.
Unfortunately, the Council left intact the Mayor’s proposals to make eligibility for TANF contingent on an applicant’s completing an orientation and an assessment.
Some states have used requirements like these to discourage enrollment. That could happen here too. Recall that federal rules give states incentives to reduce their caseloads. At the very least, the requirements could delay delivery of urgently-needed help.
The City Council will take a final vote on the budget legislation in September. It would be well-advised to strike the new eligibility requirements. Let IMA first show that it can ensure all TANF applicants timely, appropriate orientation sessions and timely assessments that accurately identify “skills, prior work experience, employability, and barriers to employment.”
Then IMA should explain why eligibility should hinge on anything more than the criteria it’s been using. What does it hope to gain from creating more hoops for poor people to jump through before they’re even admitted to the program?