New Report Aims To Improve DC TANF Program

November 12, 2009

The DC Fiscal Policy Institute and So Others Might Eat have just issued a pioneering report on the District’s TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program. It’s a must-read for anyone who cares about how this crucial safety net program works–and doesn’t.

I say the report is pioneering for a couple of reasons. One is that it goes beyond the usual bounds of advocacy. Yes, it calls for more funding. But it also delves into administrative issues–ways the program could be improved through new procedures, changes in vendor contracts and the like. In the process, it also provides a terrific education on a very complex program.

The report also pioneers in methodology. The research involved focus groups with local TANF recipients and interviews with service providers who work with them. The effort here was not just to collect illustrative stories or quotes but to learn from those who know the program best.

Their perspectives confirm some things we already knew, e.g., that TANF benefits are woefully inadequate. They also shed new light on some serious systemic problems–reasons the program doesn’t, as it’s supposed to do, enable needy families to become self-sufficient.

A sample of key findings:

  • Five times as many DC TANF recipients receive only basic job readiness services as are placed in other available job training and education programs.
  • Only small fractions of recipients who face barriers to work, e.g., domestic violence, mental and physical health issues, receive the supportive services they need.
  • Recipients who find jobs (and not nearly all do) earn an average of $9.00 per hour–a full-time annual wage of just $18,720.
  • Only 45% of them are still employed after six months.

As the report shows, the Income Maintenance Administration, which administers the District’s TANF program, could do a lot to improve outcomes. The City Council could conduct more probing oversight. But the root of some of the problems is in the federal legislation.

TANF will be up for reauthorization in Fiscal Year 2010. The DCFPI/SOME report and other experience-based studies can provide useful guidelines for a much-needed overhaul.

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What’s In the Proposed DC Budget

April 6, 2009

DC Fiscal Policy Institute has once again stepped up to make the DC budget transparent. At last, we can find out exactly what the Mayor proposes to spend next year and how he plans to pay for it.

The just-posted DCFPI budget toolkit includes a summary of the entire proposed Fiscal Year 2010 budget, plus more detailed analyses for a range of key issues that affect homeless and other low-income District residents. And that’s only part of it. There are also links to key budget documents, backgrounders on the budget gap, a spreadsheet that tracks funding for major budget areas since 2004 and more.

As my recent rant suggests, I’ve looked forward to the toolkit to shed light on prospects for critical safety net programs. I know other advocates have too. But the toolkit isn’t just for those who advocate on a regular basis. It’s for all D.C. residents who care how our tax dollars are spent–and what those taxes may be.

So check out the toolkit. Then think about weighing in as the City Council shapes the final budget. DCFPI provides a timeline, hearing schedule and tips from other groups to help you do this.

For a quick and easy way to get involved, you can join the So Others Might Eat Advocacy Network. You’ll receive alerts at key moments in the decision-making process and suggested messages you can send with just a few keystrokes and a mouse click.