Talk about robbing Peter to pay Paul!
DC Council Chairman Vincent Gray has pushed through a budget gap-closing plan for this fiscal year that takes cash assistance away from families in the District’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to fund adult job training — maybe some other things as well.
I say pushed through because Councilmembers didn’t get the final plan until the wee small hours of the morning the vote was scheduled. No time for them — or the public — to work through the details or come up with vote-ready alternatives.
I, for one, am feeling hampered by the lack of a clear account of the total package. But the stepped-up raid on TANF is clear enough.
Under his gap-closing plan, maximum benefits would have been cut by 20% for all families who’d been in the program for more than five years, whether consecutive or occasionally over a long period of time.
Gray’s version adopts this cut for the current fiscal year, then increases it by 20% each year so that post-five year benefits are fully phased out in Fiscal Year 2015.
No circuit breaker if the planned improvements in the TANF program don’t get fully implemented on schedule or deliver sufficient results. No exemption for victims of domestic violence or other singular hardships, though the District could still have used federal funds to support many, if not all of them.
Half the money saved will be invested in job training programs that target TANF recipients. Maybe Gray used some of the rest to restore the mayor’s proposed cuts to the adult job training programs operated by the Department of Employment Services.
But it’s hard to know how funds freed up in one area have been shifted to undo or mitigate proposed cuts in another.
Not hard at all to know that the phase-out of TANF benefits will work extraordinary hardships on for families who, for various reasons, can’t achieve sustained self-sufficiency. Or to know that it would never have materialized if Gray had decided to balance the budget by a reasonable mix of spending cuts and revenue raisers.
By the time of the vote, Councilmembers had a range of revenue-raising proposals in hand. Councilmembers Michael Brown and Jim Graham reportedly favored the single new top income tax bracket advocated by a large number of local organizations.
Councilmember Tommy Wells had a new income tax reform plan that would have created three new top tax brackets, the first beginning with a minimal increase at $75,000.
But Gray decided to postpone any consideration of any sort of tax increase until next spring, when he has to produce his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2012.
Fat lot of good that will do the TANF families who’ll be pushed out of the safety net.