Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

Legal Aid, Client, and Advocates Lead TANF Talk at D.C. Council

Sharing her family’s story with staff and others at the D.C. Council earlier this week, a Legal Aid client and young mother of two spoke movingly about her efforts to make ends meet on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) while managing a host of other pressures. Our client was at the Wilson Building to appear on a panel organized by Legal Aid, D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, SOME, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and Children’s Law Center. Dr. Donna Pavetti of the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities was also a panelist, speaking extensively on best practices for TANF programs.

The purpose of the panel was to increase awareness regarding the implementation of the District’s redesigned TANF program, draw attention to the inadequacy of TANF benefits, and discuss national trends and successful strategies implemented in TANF programs in other jurisdictions. I also led a presentation jointly prepared by DCFPI and Legal Aid. Our presentation put the current TANF policies in context, both historically and in terms of its real-life impact on recipients.

TANF benefits as a percentage of the federal poverty line have been on a steady decline since 1990.

TANF Chart 2As many know, the D.C. Department of Human Services is in the midst of redesigning and improving the District’s TANF program. As part of the Fiscal Year 2015 budget, the Council has taken important steps to further improve TANF. Starting in October 2014, parents caring for an infant under 6 months may be eligible to be temporarily excused from the five-year lifetime limit on TANF benefits. TANF benefits for all parents in the District would also be adjusted annually to reflect cost of living adjustment. In Fiscal Year 2017, TANF benefits would increase by 46%. These planned adjustments acknowledge the substantial loss in purchasing power parents relying on TANF have experienced as the absolute amount of benefits has remained the same since 2008. Today’s TANF benefits for a family of three are only 26% of the federal poverty line, meaning that even with this kind of governmental help many District families still lack the resources to gain a sure financial foothold. In light of this, the increase to TANF benefit levels included in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget is long overdue.

We thank our participants for an open and engaged discussion at yesterday’s panel. We also thank our cosponsors: Chairman Mendelson and Councilmembers Barry, Bonds, Catania, Graham, and Wells.

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