Budget choices speak loudly about the priorities of a city.  Last week, the DC Council – after much negotiation, review, and analysis of the Mayor’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2013 — voted unanimously to prioritize the well-being of low-income children in the District of Columbia.  One in 3 children in the District is poor.  Prioritizing low-income kids is vital to ensuring a brighter future for the thousands of District children growing up in poverty.  The Legal Clinic thanks the Council for prioritizing kids in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget.

The Council’s FY 2013 Budget Request Act and Budget Support Act increase the city’s investment in affordable housing for low-income and homeless families, reject proposed cuts to the Office of Victim services to ensure domestic violence victims and their children can access needed services, prevent reductions in services to families who receive health care through the DC Healthcare Alliance insurance program, and fully fund important new educational initiatives.  All of these actions are worthy of praise.

But the Council did not take much needed action to protect one group of low-income District children: those whose parents have received Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (“TANF”) cash assistance for what the Mayor considers too long.  If the Council doesn’t take action in its second vote on the Budget Support Act on June 5th, cash assistance to thousands of poor children will be cut on October 1st.  Families rely on TANF assistance when parents are between jobs to get their children to school, buy diapers and other household necessities, get to and from job training programs and job interviews, and pay rent and utility bills.

The $5.6 million cut to TANF that will occur on October 1st absent Council action would reduce the cash assistance to a family of three from $428/month to $257/month.  (This is about $8.50/day for the entire family, or less than $3/day per person.)  Because the cut targets families who have received TANF for 60 months or more during their lifetimes, it would affect the neediest families who receive TANF.  Studies show that parents who rely on TANF assistance for more than 60 months in their lifetimes have the highest level of barriers to work, including low literacy rates, serious physical or mental health conditions, and chronic and serious domestic violence.[1]

Let’s not pull the rug out from under parents and their kids before they’ve had a chance to take advantage of the TANF program’s newly redesigned assessments and case management services that are just coming on line in the District.

Stay tuned this week and next for more on the TANF cut in the Mayor’s proposed FY 13 budget, what it means for our clients, and how you can help ensure that the DC Council takes one more step this budget season towards ensuring a brighter future for District children.

[1] Mary Farrell, Sarah Rich, Lesley Turner, David Seith & Dan Bloom, Welfare Time Limits: An Update on State Policies, Implementation, and Effects on Families at ES-5 (April 2008), available at http://www.mdrc.org/publications/481/execsum.pdf.