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Tagged ‘budget‘

Oct 04

2011

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D.C. Seniors to Continue to Receive Critical Food Through Commodity Supplemental Food Program

Westra Miller, Staff Attorney

Late last week, Mayor Vincent C. Gray announced that the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), an important program providing food to low-income D.C. seniors, would be extended through the end of 2011.  Advocates, such as Legal Aid, had been concerned that the program would end with the close of the fiscal year on September 30, leaving thousands of seniors without essential food such as juice, cereal, rice, dry beans, or canned goods.  Approximately 6,647 seniors who have a gross income below 130% of the federal poverty level receive a bag of $58 worth of groceries each month through CSFP.  They will continue to receive these critical items with no break in service due to the Mayor’s recent commitment to extending CFSP.  Given the very real economic pressures facing many District residents—and especially seniors on fixed incomes—the extension of a program such as CSFP comes at a critical time.  However, the extension is also a reminder of the precarious fates of many locally- and federally-funded benefits programs in this season of budget-cutting.  While Legal Aid is pleased that many of our clients and community members can continue to rely on the food provided through CFSP through the end of the year, we and other advocates will not stop our ongoing work to ensure that any upcoming budget cuts or programmatic reductions are fair to all D.C. residents.

May 12

2011

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Legal Aid Expresses Profound Concern about Disproportionate Budget Cuts

Eric Angel, Executive Director

I testified before the D.C. Council on Monday, May 9, 2011, about the 2012 Budget Support Act.  My oral testimony focused generally on poverty in the District and proposed changes to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and the D.C. Healthcare Alliance.  My written testimony focused on both of those issues along with Interim Disability Assistance and the importance of retaining the proposed revenue enhancements.

Click here to read Legal Aid’s full testimony.

Click here to see the hearing including my oral testimony, which begins at approximately 03:11:19.

Other Making Justice Real posts on the FY 2012 Budget:

TANF Time Limit Would Put Survivors of Domestic Violence at Risk

Proposed Change to D.C. Healthcare Alliance Would Erect High Barriers to Health Coverage

D.C. Budget Would Suspend Interim Disability Assistance

Mayor Gray’s Proposed Budget Cuts Would Hit Legal Aid Clients Hard

 

May 05

2011

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TANF Time Limit Would Put Survivors of Domestic Violence at Risk

Julia Lee, Senior Staff Attorney

As a cost-cutting measure, the Mayor’s office has proposed dramatic changes to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (or “TANF,” the District’s cash assistance program for very low-income families.)  One feature of Mayor Gray’s budget is a time-triggered cutoff for people who have received TANF benefits for longer than sixty months over the course of their lifetime.  Benefit reductions have already been instituted.  We are concerned that Mayor Gray’s time limit proposal would be seriously detrimental to survivors of domestic violence and their families. (The vast majority of the clients Legal Aid helps to secure domestic violence protective orders are TANF recipients.) 

D.C. law waives the TANF work participation requirement for recipients who are noncompliant because of family violence, or because fulfilling the requirement would impair the recipients’ ability to escape domestic violence or put recipients at risk of further violence.  See D.C. Mun. Reg. 29-5823.  This carve-out recognizes that when survivors are struggling to remove themselves from abusive situations, the TANF work program can be too much to handle and can place survivors and their families in real danger.  Most states have similar policies. 

Currently, the Income Maintenance Administration (IMA), which administers TANF, does a poor job of identifying recipients who have been affected by domestic violence.  Only 1 TANF recipient was receiving the waiver in late 2010 even though the Urban Institute has estimated that approximately 1 in 5 D.C. TANF recipients are domestic violence survivorsand more than 1 in 7 have suffered severe domestic violence within the most recent year.  The process for receiving the waiver is confusing and convoluted, so many domestic violence survivors now are receiving sanctions (having their benefits reduced) because their family situations preclude them from being able to meet the extensive work activity requirements.  Changes underway at IMA might help the agency do a better job of identifying survivors to connect them with services and help them avoid sanctions, but those changes will not take effect for several months at the earliest. 

If the proposed time limit is enacted as is, recipients will be cut off even if they are receiving the domestic violence waiver.  For example, a survivor of domestic violence who would be in danger if her abuser found out her location and who, for that reason, never received job training or was delayed in being trained would still be cut off TANF once her time was up.  IMA could say to these survivors, on one day, “You’re fine; you don’t have to worry about going to job training if it will put your or your children’s safety at risk,” but on the next day, “You’ve been on too long; you’re cut off.”   

The potential effect of the TANF time limit on domestic violence survivors is yet another piece of evidence that the Mayor’s office has not considered the full consequences of its rush to cut TANF and other human services programs.  If a TANF time limit is enacted, the policy should be crafted in a way that would not penalize survivors of domestic violence for circumstances that are beyond their control.  More broadly, any time limit should be constructed so that it more closely mirrors time limits in other states: it should be prospective, not retroactive; it should include extensions and extensions for people who are complying with work requirements and people who cannot meet work requirements; and it should be narrowly tailored so that it causes the least amount of harm possible to low-income children and families.  The current proposal meets none of those criteria. 

The fate of TANF, and our clients who rely on it for the most basic subsistence, is now in the hands of the D.C. Council.  Please contact Councilmember Jim Graham, Chair of the Committee on Human Services, and ask him to stop the current TANF time limit proposal.  You can reach Councilmember Graham at (202) 724-8181 or jim@grahamwone.com.

 

Recent Making Justice Real posts on TANF:

Mayor Gray’s Proposed Budget Cuts Would Hit Legal Aid Clients Hard

TANF benefits to be cut for some families as of April 1, 2011. 

Bad Direction for TANF in the District of Columbia

Legal Aid opinion piece published in Washington Post

Legal Aid’s Thanksgiving Message

 

May 04

2011

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Proposed Change to D.C. Healthcare Alliance Would Erect High Barriers to Health Coverage

 

Andrew Patterson, Staff Attorney

Mayor Gray’s proposed budget includes a significant policy change in the D.C. Healthcare Alliance, a District-run health insurance program that covers low-income individuals who don’t qualify for Medicaid.  Currently, Alliance enrollees must recertify (demonstrate that they are still eligible for the program based on their residency and income) once per year by filling out and sending in a form. The Mayor is proposing that Alliance enrollees recertify twice a year by having a face-to-face interview with an Income Maintenance Administration employee.

Legal Aid is very concerned about what these changes would mean for our clients who rely on the Alliance for their health coverage.  Inadequate notification, concerns about taking time off work, and well-documented administrative problems at IMA could keep low-income District residents from getting the healthcare they need.  While we understand the budget pressures the District faces, this proposal would exacerbate problems with the existing recertification process rather than strengthen it, and would likely jeopardize health coverage for many eligible District residents. 

The budget hearing for the Department of Healthcare Finance, which administers the Alliance, took place on Thursday, April 16. Legal Aid submitted testimony raising our concerns about the proposed Alliance recertification process.  During the hearing, Chairman Catania expressed his concern with the burden this policy change would place on IMA.  We also urged the Council to avoid lowering Medicaid and Alliance provider reimbursement rates or cutting services available under these programs, issues that we have previously discussed on this blog. 

For a more detailed explanation of our position on the Alliance recertification process, read our full testimony.  To express your concerns about the proposed change to the Alliance, contact Councilmember David A. Catania, Chair of the Committee on Health, at (202) 724-7772 or dcatania@dccouncil.us.

Apr 19

2011

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D.C. Budget Would Suspend Interim Disability Assistance

Lucy Newton, Supervising Attorney

Interim Disability Assistance (IDA) offers $270 per month to individuals who are unable to work due to a disability and who have applied for and have a high probability of receiving federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  Once an application is granted, the recipient receives Social Security benefits back to the date of application, a portion of which the federal Social Security Administration (SSA) gives to the District as reimbursement for IDA.  As explained in this short video from So Others Might Eat and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, IDA is often the one resource keeping individuals with disabilities from sinking into utter destitution and homelessness.

Currently, the District is reimbursed about 40% of the money it spends on IDA – one of the highest reimbursement rates of any of the 38 states that have a similar program.  For FY 2011, the District expected to receive $2 million in reimbursement from the federal government for IDA; the District has already outperformed this estimation by receiving $2.5 million.

Despite the relative success of the program’s reimbursement process, Mayor Gray has pointed to the 40% reimbursement rate as a reason to dismantle the program.  The Mayor has proposed slashing up to 75% of the funding for IDA, which would cut the current caseload of 1,500 to about 600 by the end of FY 2012. (The program’s caseload has already been drastically reduced from its peak of 2,900 in 2008, and there is currently a lengthy waitlist for the program.)

At the April 6 budget briefing, the Mayor complained that when the program was conceived eight years ago, “there was supposed to be an effort made to ensure that there was compatibility at the front end, the front door of eligibility, so that people who were accepted were clearly going to be accepted by SSI.”  Because of the number of people in the program who are denied SSI, the Mayor maintained that IDA has meant “the recreation of a general public assistance program for a lot of these people in the city.” (Mayor Gray was likely referring to the District’s former General Public Assistance program, which served a similar purpose but was ended in 1997 in part because its recovery rates were around 20% — half the rate of the current IDA program.)

The Mayor’s thought process and approach to IDA are puzzling.  First, the denial of an individual’s SSI application does not necessarily mean that the application lacked merit and cannot be considered evidence of flaws in the IDA program.  Legal Aid and other service providers frequently represent – and win benefits for – clients with severe disabling conditions who were incorrectly denied benefits by SSA.

Second, leaving individuals with disabilities penniless while they wait several months to receive SSI is not a reasonable solution to concerns about eligibility screening.  Rather, the Mayor should work with the Department of Human Services and advocates to think more creatively about ways to improve the program and, if necessary, the screening process.  Legal Aid stands ready to participate in such discussions.

We encourage you to reach out to Councilmember Jim Graham, Chair of the D.C. Council’s Committee on Human Services, in support of IDA.  You can reach Councilmember Graham at (202) 724-8181 or jim@grahamwone.com.

Previous Making Justice Real posts on IDA:

Mayor Gray’s Proposed Budget Cuts Would Hit Legal Aid Clients Hard (Apr. 15, 2011)

New Video on the Importance of the District’s Interim Disability Assistance Program (Mar. 22, 2011)

Individuals with Disabilities Assistance Program on the Chopping Block (Mar. 17, 2010)

Apr 15

2011

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Mayor Gray’s Proposed Budget Cuts Would Hit Legal Aid Clients Hard

Monica Bell, Liman Fellow

Mayor Gray released his proposed Fiscal Year 2012 budget on
April 1.  The budget takes a more balanced approach overall than recent budgets by calling for several means of revenue enhancement, including raising the marginal tax rate on families with taxable income of over $200,000 per year by 0.4%, establishing combined reporting for multistate corporations, increasing the parking tax from 12% to 18% to make it more similar to other large cities’ parking taxes, and increasing the alcohol tax, among others.   However, 67.2% — 2 of every 3 dollars – of the cuts proposed by the Mayor are directed toward the already ailing health, housing, and human services budgets, even though the budgets for those services only make up about one-fifth of the District’s current expenditures. The proposed budget would weaken several programs, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Interim Disability Assistance (IDA), Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), the DC Healthcare Alliance, Housing Vouchers, and Homeless Services, which keep many of our clients here at Legal Aid from suffering the very worst consequences of poverty.

TANF:  The proposal would, over the next three fiscal years, cut cash assistance to almost 7,000 families who have been on the program longer than 60 months.  As we have explained in previous posts, the FY 2011 budget already cut benefits to this same group, many of whom have the most barriers to working. To illustrate, a family of three who was receiving $428 per month (the maximum benefit) before April 1, 2011 is now receiving $342 per month; this amount would drop to $257 per month beginning October 1, 2011, to $150 per month by October 1, 2012, and would be eliminated completely by October 1, 2013.  The Mayor believes that this cut would help end the alleged “cycle of poverty” and incentivize people to work.  There are many problems with his approach.  First, research overwhelmingly indicates that while time limits certainly lower welfare rolls, they are not an effective employment tool.  Second, the current D.C. TANF program fails at several critical aspects of a successful welfare-to-work program, including assessment, connection with supportive services, job training, and job location.  Time limits in places with strong welfare-to-work programs are problematic enough; time limits in a jurisdiction with a deficient welfare-to-work program are both unproductive and cruel.  

IDA:  The funding for IDA, which offers benefits to individuals with disabilities while their applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are pending, would be cut by up to 75% under the Mayor’s proposal.  The program – which gives recipients just $247 per month — currently serves 1500 District residents and has a waiting list of over 600 people; the program caseload would be cut to about 600 by the end of FY 2012 if this massive budget cut is approved.  The budget would essentially eliminate IDA over time. 

DC Healthcare Alliance:  The proposal would cut funding for the Alliance by $11.7 million. The CFO anticipates that the Alliance would save this money through a measure in the Budget Support Act that would increase the frequency that people on the Alliance must recertify their eligibility.  Currently, Alliance members must recertify once per year.  The proposed Act would require face-to-face recertification every six months. This change would likely lead to inaccurate disqualification of District residents who are eligible for Alliance benefits. 

ERAP:  The proposed budget would slash funding for ERAP by $5 million, to just $2.7 million for FY 12.  In contrast, the FY 2009 ERAP budget was $8 million.  This cut will likely increase homelessness and the problems that tend to accompany it, such as truancy and crime. ERAP is often the last resort for families who are at risk of being evicted from their housing, and this massive cut will mean that fewer families will be able to remain in housing. 

Homeless Services:  Even as the District’s largest shelter has had to start turning away homeless families due to lack of funding, and even as the problem of homelessness is likely to increase because of cuts to TANF, IDA, and ERAP, the Mayor is proposing that the budget for services to the homeless population be decreased.  The proposed budget would cut the already cash-strapped homeless services budget by approximately $11 million. 

In addition to the above-mentioned cuts, Legal Aid is also concerned about cuts and shifts in budget priorities with respect to housing vouchers, affordable housing development, and mental health services for children in foster care, among others. 

As a member of the Invest in DC coalition, Legal Aid is pleased that the Mayor proposed at least a small set of revenue enhancements.  We recognize that this is a tough budget season in which difficult choices must be made.  However, the proposed budget would undermine – and, in some cases, destroy – programs that ensure the economic security of the most vulnerable District families.  That is not an acceptable choice.  We call on Mayor Gray and the Council to think more creatively about how to protect the safety net, such as by adopting the Invest in DC coalition’s recommendation to end DC’s tax exemption for interest paid on out-of-state bonds and by subjecting more nonessential services like pet grooming and health club membership to the sales tax. 

The Council is currently holding hearings regarding each agency’s budget; the hearings started on April 7 and will continue through May 6.  The hearing before the Committee of the Whole is on May 7.  The final vote for the Budget Request Act will take place on May 24, and the final vote on the Budget Support Act is on June 7.  Please testify at hearings and reach out to Council members in this timeframe to let them know that you support the preservation of critical safety net programs. 

For more information on the District’s FY 2012 budget, see:

Mar 22

2011

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New Video on the Importance of the District’s Interim Disability Assistance Program

Jennifer Mezey, Supervising Attorney

Interim Disability Assistance (“IDA”) provides essential temporary cash assistance to the City’s most vulnerable disabled residents while they wait – often months or even years – to be approved for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  $270 per month from IDA (less than 30% of the federal poverty level) is often the only income individuals with disabilities can rely on to scrape by while waiting for the federal government to rule on their disability claim.

Over the last four years, the District’s budget for IDA has been slashed to the bone. The program has been cut by over 70% from FY 2008 to FY 2011. As a result of these cuts, there are currently over 600 people on a four-month waiting list for the program who are struggling to get by on virtually no income whatsoever.

So Others Might Eat (SOME) and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI) have released a two-minute video featuring three District residents who have benefited from the IDA program.  With the help of IDA, two of the featured former IDA recipients are now receiving SSI, and another was able to receive treatment that helped him overcome his disability.  Their stories put a human face on IDA and demonstrate the necessity of maintaining the program.  As Mayor Gray prepares to present his budget on April 1, it is critically important that the voices of those who stand to lose the most from an unbalanced approach to the budget be heard and heeded.

Watch the SOME/DCFPI video here, and make sure to share it with others.

Learn more about – and get involved with – the efforts of Legal Aid and other members of the “Invest in DC” Coalition, which advocates a balanced approach to the FY 2012 budget.

Mar 21

2011

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Join Legal Aid and Other Organizations in Urging the Mayor to “Invest in DC”

Monica Bell, Liman Fellow

As Mayor Gray prepares to present his FY 2012 budget on April 1, advocates for the low-income community are again concerned that the safety net, already weakened, will be decimated by further cuts this year.  The District is projected to face a shortfall of about $322 million.  If past behavior is any indication of the future, advocates have reason to be concerned.  In recent years, the District’s primary strategy for dealing with the budget shortfall has been cutting millions of dollars for critically important services to the District’s most vulnerable.  TANF, Interim Disability Assistance, homeless services, affordable housing, childcare services, mental health services, adult education, domestic violence resources, and others have all been subjected to the axe.  Candidate Gray recognized this, noting that “We have not only cut to the bone, we are down to the bone marrow.”  Even so, an additional $30 million was cut from the FY 2011 budget for services to low-income District residents, those who most acutely feel the impact of program cuts.

Legal Aid has joined 60 other organizations in signing on to the “Invest in DC” initiative, led by Save Our Safety Net, the Fair Budget Coalition, the Metro Washington Council of the AFL-CIO, and DC Jobs with Justice. We urge the Mayor to take a balanced approach to dealing with the budget shortfall by making reasonable efforts to increase the District’s revenue.  The “Invest in DC” approach would raise $150 million in progressive revenue by:

(1)   Increasing the income tax rate on the wealthiest, which currently places the same rate on a family making $1 million per year the same as a family earning $40,000 per year;

(2)   Ending the District’s tax exemption for interest paid on out-of-state bonds, which would bring DC’s practices in line with those of 49 out of 50 states; and

(3)   Increasing taxes on parking, a burden that would fall substantially on commuters and tourists.

If we are to truly be “One City,” we must ensure that the burden of the budget crisis does not fall primarily on certain wards and certain communities, but rather is shared across the District.

We need your help to carry this message to Mayor Gray.  There are two major ways you can participate this week:

(1) Call the Mayor on Tuesday, March 22 to challenge him to raise $150 million in progressive revenue and invest it in DC. Call the Mayor’s Community Affairs Office at (202) 442-8150.  You can also email the Mayor at vincent.gray@dc.gov. Contact mbell@legalaiddc.org to get a sample email or phone script for the March 22 calls.

(2) Participate in Save Our Safety Net’s “Lunch with the Mayor Initiative” this week. Join Save Our Safety Net and allies at the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, to demand a meeting with Mayor Gray to discuss the upcoming budget every day this week at 1 PM.  Remember to bring your ID and a brown bag lunch (except for Friday, March 25). RSVP to sos.adf@gmail.com.

Dec 08

2010

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Profound Disappointment, Relief Regarding FY2011 Budget Revision

Eric Angel, Acting Executive Director

In recent days, we reached out to the Legal Aid community regarding the disturbing budget cuts proposed by Mayor Fenty in his Gap Closing Plan for FY2011.  Among other things, the plan proposed to cut the Access to Justice Grant Program – which supports civil legal services for indigent District residents and the Community Legal Interpreter Bank – by more than 50% of the level appropriated by the Council this spring.  It also proposed reducing funding for the Loan Repayment Assistance Program, which helps legal services lawyers to manage otherwise crushing educational debt.  I testified before the Council regarding this issue. In an extraordinary show of support, Chief Judge Eric Washington of the D.C. Court of Appeals, Chief Judge Lee Satterfield of the Superior Court, D.C. Bar President Ron Flagg, and the head of the Access to Justice Commission, Peter Edelman, all came down personally to the Council to oppose the cut.  Many Legal Aid Board members and friends of Legal Aid reached out to the Council via email or telephone.

These extraordinary efforts paid off:  in a day otherwise marred by deep cuts to social services in the District, the Council voted to restore most of the cuts the Mayor had proposed to Access to Justice funding.  Specifically, it appears that Access to Justice grant’s level was restored to $2.951 million and LRAP was fully restored to $221,000.  This represents a 10% cut to the Access to Justice grants program, as opposed to the over 50% cut that was proposed.

Legal Aid has also been heavily involved in advocacy regarding the spending cuts proposed that affect our client community directly, including a misguided cut to the TANF payments.  Our Liman Public Policy Fellow Monica Bell testified before the Council.  Here, our advocacy efforts were very challenging (and vastly less successful).  On Tuesday, December 7, the D.C. Council significantly altered the District’s welfare policy by essentially adopting a time limit for TANF receipt.  By February 2011, the District will reduce benefits to families who have received TANF for more than 5 years by 20%.  The benefit reduction will increase by 20% each following fiscal year until they are no longer receiving any cash assistance.  That means that a family of three now receiving $428 per month in cash assistance will receive $342 per month in FY2012, $257 per month in FY2013, $171 per month in FY 2014, and just $86 per month in FY2015. The FY2011 change will affect over 7,000 District families.  Unlike other jurisdictions with welfare time limits, the District does not exempt especially vulnerable populations, such as survivors of domestic violence, those caring for disabled family members, or recipients over the age of 60.  Half of the predicted savings will be reinvested in D.C.’s job training programs.  We are very concerned about the real, practical effects of these cuts and will be working on responses in the coming days, weeks, and months.

Dec 06

2010

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The DC Council Needs to Hear From You Before Tuesday’s Vote

Eric Angel, Acting Executive Director

The Mayor’s Gap Closing Plan for FY 2011, announced less than two weeks ago, slashes funding for a number of critical safety net programs.  Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funding has been cut by $4.6 million by  reducing benefits to families who have been on the program for more than 60 months by 20%.  A family of three would go from receiving $428 per month to just $343.  Interim Disability Assistance (IDA), the District’s support system for those who are disabled and unable to work, is subject to a potential $1.2 million cut.  The Grandparent Caregiver program, which provides funds to low-income elderly persons who are caring for their grandchildren, has been slashed by fifty percent.  The Access to Justice Grant Program, which supports civil legal services for indigent District residents and the Community Legal Interpreter Bank, has also been slashed by more than fifty percent.  These cuts will jeopardize the District’s increasingly fragile social safety net in a time when need has drastically increased.

At the same time the budget proposes to erode the social safety net, it contains no major initiatives to increase the District’s revenues through reasonable tax increases.  Legal Aid has endorsed the “Better Choices” initiative, urging the Council to take a balanced approach to the budget shortfall.  We realize the unavoidability of budget cuts given the extent of the shortfall, but we also recognize that the District’s low-income community should not bear the burden of this crisis alone.

The Council will vote on the FY 2011 Budget on Tuesday.  Each Council member needs to hear from you – right away – about the devastating impact these cuts will have on vulnerable District residents.

Call and/or email Council members today to urge them to take a balanced approach to the budget crisis. Ask them to preserve funding for needed safety net programs and access to justice funding as much as possible, and to enhance revenues through reasonable, progressive tax policy.  These efforts can make a significant difference for our client community.