Making Justice Real

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

Summer Reading, Not Necessarily Appropriate for the Beach

Executive Director

TANF. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program is scheduled to be re-authorized this year.  TANF was the centerpiece of the mid-1990’s changes to the public systems of support for low-income families dubbed “welfare reform.”  The stated idea behind TANF was that it would give a short term cash benefit while parents were assisted to move into the workforce.  The result is that TANF participation has decreased and the percentage of people eligible for benefits who actually receive them has declinedLegal Momentum found that the decline in participation has, remarkably, continued throughout the recession.

Network, a group of Catholic social justice leaders, recently completed and published a report on the effectiveness of the TANF program during the recession.  TANF Tested: Lives of Families in Poverty during the Recession .   There are real questions about whether TANF’s focus on work made a difference during the boom years immediately following welfare reform.   Only a very small percentage of people leaving TANF for work secured employment with an adequate wage to lift them out of poverty.  During a recession, where official unemployment rates have climbed to nearly 10% nationally, the notion that work is the answer for most families living in poverty is absurd.

Driven by the results of the study, Network has made a number of important recommendations for the reauthorization bill.  The most important being that the basic measure of success be shifted from whether TANF caseloads are reduced to whether TANF recipients and those who leave TANF move out of poverty.

What the Federal Government Should Do Next to Reduce Poverty. Important provisions of the Stimulus Package provided support to state and local governments to continue and expand safety-net programs.   Key aspects of these programs are set to expire, despite that unemployment remains very high and communities are in distress.

The Urban Institute issued a briefing paper in July (Co-Authored by DC Access to Justice Commission Chair and Georgetown Law Professor Peter Edelman) with recommendation for short and long term measures that the federal government should take to reduce poverty and increase economic security.  Reducing Poverty and Economic:  Distress after ARRA: Next Steps for Short-Term Recovery and Long-Term Economic Security.  The paper looks at the immediate need for income support and job creation, but also looks forward to the next crisis in the job market and measures that might be taken to create long term economic stability.

Impact of the Recession on the Courts. We have previously written in this blog about the crisis in equal justice.  A new American Bar Association report examines the question from the perspective of the bench.  The ABA surveyed 1200 judges from across the country on the effects of the recession on representation in the courts.  The study found that self-representation is, not surprisingly, on the increase.  More significantly, however, the judges admit that self representation yields unjust results.  The report concluded:  “The most important issue with regard to self representation is what is its effect. The table below shows that while 37% of the judges say that it is not problematic, 62% say that individuals are negatively impacted. Only a very few say that there is a positive impact… Also troubling to 26% of the justices is that the court allows an injustice to occur when one of the parties is not able to properly present the valid claims or defense that they might have.”

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