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With our National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness a mere month away, we revisit a blog post originally written in September of this year by Director for Families and Youth Sharon McDonald.
Last month marked the 15th anniversary of welfare reform. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act(PRWORA) is often heralded as a success. With the flexibility of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant, many states provided work supports that helped thousands of families transition off of financial assistance and enter the workforce.
The recent recession, however, highlighted some of the weaknesses of the program. The program did not adequately respond to the increased needs of families suddenly without work and whose unemployment insurance ran out, leaving them teetering on the edge and on their own. From its inception, the program has allowed too many families to fall through the cracks and into deeper poverty. Primary among them are families who experience homelessness.
Less than 20 percent of homeless families report receiving financial assistance from TANF agencies. Studies demonstrate that families who lose TANF assistance often include family members with a disability and other serious barriers to economic self-sufficiency. While some families may lose TANF financial assistance, other eligible families may never apply. With the hope of finding a new job quickly, parents experiencing a short-term economic crisis turn instead to extended families and friends. Many double up. When doubling up results in conflict, they turn to homeless programs.
TANF programs can be more effective in preventing homelessness. States can adopt policies that make it easier for families to apply for and receive financial assistance. They can work to reduce the number of families who are sanctioned off of cash assistance and who lack the means to care for themselves or their children, particularly families that include parents or children with disabilities. States can also increase benefit levels and provide emergency assistance so that families who do receive TANF can pay for housing.
TANF programs can also be more effective in ending homelessness. In communities across the country, local welfare agencies are partnering with programs serving homeless families to rapidly re-house families. In Salt Lake City, for example, the Department of Workforce Services works closely with The Road Home to help families move quickly out of shelter and back into housing of their own. The Road Home provides housing search assistance, landlord negotiation, and home-based case management to families. Workforce Services works with the Road Home to provide short-term benefits to help families pay for housing in the first few months and provide employment search assistance so families will be able to pay for housing on their own over the long-term. The evidence is clear that this approach is working. Family shelter stays are minimized and over 90 percent of the families served successfully retain their housing with the short-term, upfront help the program provides.
The 15th anniversary of welfare reform provides an opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned from PRWORA on how TANF programs can be improved. TANF programs can be a more effective buffer to prevent family homelessness and a critical partner in re-housing families who do become homeless. Ending family homelessness requires the investment of state and local TANF agencies. With sufficient political will, the 20th anniversary of welfare reform can provide an opportunity to reflect on the great advancements made by TANF agencies to end family homelessness.
In the news this past week:
- Nan Roman, President and CEO of the Alliance, was quoted in an article on Virginia’s plan to end homelessness. The State’s Office to End Homelessness recognizes that rapid re-housing and stable housing will help truly end homelessness in the Commonwealth.
- An editorial in the New York Times this week points out a provision in the Section 8 Savings Act that would increase rents for Americans in poverty, possibly forcing them into homelessness.
- The Washington Post reported that, due to high youth unemployment, the rate of young people, teens, and families with young parents who are homeless has risen in recent years.
- Google is investing in affordable housing in a number of locations across the country, including near their headquarters in Mountain View, California.
- The camps set up by the Occupy Movement are continuing to attract homeless people. The camps offer relative protection from theft, violence, and police harassment, compared to living without a home elsewhere.
- The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) federal welfare program is facing severe budget shortages, leaving poor families without desperately needed assistance. The State of Washington has reduced funds and enacted stricter eligibility thresholds in the face of sharp increases in applications.
For last week’s News Roundup Poll, we asked you if you were planning on donating your time or money to a nonprofit organization benefiting the homeless at some point this holiday season.
Almost all of you said that you would, which is outstanding. Since winter is coming, and the economy is only creeping forward, it is more important now than ever to make sure that the most vulnerable members of society have a safe and stable place to live.
The news is out: the “super-committee” was unable to make a deal. What does that mean, particularly for local communities that are struggling with homelessness?
The super-committee was created by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, the deficit reduction law that Congress passed this past summer. As a quick review, that law contained two major provisions to reduce federal debt:
- An overall cap on federal “discretionary” spending (spending that is determined year-by-year through the congressional appropriations process, including virtually all HUD programs and all other targeted homelessness programs), starting in FY 2012. These caps generally keep increases in spending below the expected rate of inflation for the next ten years.
- Deeper cuts over nine years, beginning in FY 2013, totaling an additional $1.2 trillion in spending reduction. This second set of cuts could have been avoided had the super-committee proposed and Congress passed legislation to reduce the projected federal debt by $1.2 trillion through other mechanisms.
So with the super-committee process having produced no alternative, the additional $1.2 trillion in cuts is scheduled to take place, beginning in January 2013. These cuts will come from domestic programs as well as defense and security programs. They include some “mandatory” (as opposed to “discretionary”) programs but most mandatory programs that affect low-income people are exempt: Medicaid, SSI, Social Security, TANF, SNAP (formerly called food stamps). All VA programs are exempt from cuts as well.
However, HUD programs, as well as Health Care for the Homeless, SAMHSA homelessness grants, education for homeless children and youth, RHYA programs, and other targeted homelessness programs, are not exempt.
One thing to note – by January 2013, FY 2013 will have already begun, so for that year the Budget Control Act requires a “sequester:” an across the board cut to all non-exempt programs below the level that Congress appropriated for FY 2013. For FYs 2014 to 2021, appropriators will, from the beginning, base their work on the deeper discretionary caps.
To give some idea of the scope, let’s look at the total amounts of federal discretionary spending for a few select years (thanks to OMB Watch for the figures, which are estimates):
2010 — $1.089 trillion (enacted)
2011 — $1.049 trillion (enacted)
2012 — $1.043 trillion (mandated by step 1 of the BCA)
2013 — $953 billion (mandated by step 2 of the BCA)
The cuts beginning in FY 2013 are obviously extreme. Between FY 2012 and FY 2013, discretionary funding will be cut by nearly 9 percent. If HUD receives a proportionate share of this cut, it means FY 2013 spending on HUD programs would drop by nearly $4 billion, compared to the $1 billion that HUD programs are losing in FY 2012 compared to FY 2011.
Congress and the President, of course, have the authority to throw out the spending caps that were in the BCA or to suspend them in any way they see fit. This could happen before or immediately after the 2012 election, perhaps as soon as the new Congress comes into office in January 2013.
There is a good deal of talk on Capitol Hill about doing just that, although President Obama is discouraging it. The second set of BCA cuts was designed as an incentive for the super-committee to come up with an agreement, not necessarily as good policy in its own right. In fact, if the top priority goal of overall domestic policy right now is more jobs, then short-term cuts in federal spending are exactly the wrong thing to do.
But it would probably not be a good idea to count on Congress reversing these cuts. For some time to come, competition for limited federal discretionary resources will likely be extreme. On the other hand, “no deal” means the historic Medicaid expansions scheduled for 2014 are still the law, SNAPS and SSI can expand if the number of people in poverty continues to rise, TANF will stay intact, and no harmful changes are planned to the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit or the Earned Income Tax Credit. At least that’s the law for now. Work to end homelessness will need to take account all of these changes, relying less on increases from HUD and more on the large antipoverty entitlement programs.
At the same time, it will be important to make the strongest available case for HUD resources, while getting the most we can out of existing funds. Together, we will have to focus on efficient and cost-effective solutions, while convincing Congress to prioritize funding for the most vulnerable Americans.
These are things we are more than capable of doing. The Alliance looks forward to continuing to partner with you to get the best possible results for homeless people.
Big News! We opened registration for our 2012 National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness. Sign up soon for discounted registration rates and expect more posts on the conferences as it gets closer.
If you have read our Friday News Roundups in the past, you may have noticed that today’s version is a little shorter than usual. Let us know if you like this shorter, bulletted format better than the usual summery format in the poll question at the bottom of this post!
Now on to this week’s news roundup:
- Chattanooga announced family homelessness has doubled in their community.
- An estimated 40,000 people, half of whom are children, will be cut from receiving welfare benefits in Michigan. Food stamp recipients who have assets of more than $5,000 may also lose their benefits.
- The street newspaper Street Roots looks at how cuts to benefits in Oregon will affect real people.
- The Ali Forney Center released a video on the plight of homeless gay youth.
- Cindy Lauper explains why she gives a damn about lgbt youth homelessness.
- A lack of affordable housing and never ending waiting lists contribute to a shortage in housing for people with mental illnesses in Baltimore County.
- Affordable housing for everyone is short in the Twin Cities and in Billings, MT.
Last week, we told you about the Super-Committee and why we need to ask them to protect homeless assistance programs. Last month, we told you what the Super-Committee needs to know about ending homelessness. Today (and tomorrow), we need you to pass that message along to the members of the Super-Committee.
Specifically, we’re talking about Medicaid. The Medicaid Coalition, led by Families USA, will be having call-in days today, Thursday, October 13 and tomorrow, Friday, October 14. We’re asking you to call the Members on the Super-Committee and urge them to reject any cuts to Medicaid. Medicaid is a critically important part of the social safety net that protects homeless and other vulnerable people.
Why tomorrow? Because tomorrow is the deadline for congressional committees that work on Medicaid to relay their expert recommendations to the Super-Committee. All committees that work on Medicaid – on both the House and Senate sides – have the opportunity to send the Super-Committee their thoughts on how the Super-Committee should approach Medicaid tomorrow.
This is another great chance to contact your Members of Congress, build upon your emerging relationship with lawmakers, and make a difference in the lives of those suffering most in this economic climate. Reaching out to your Members on this issue is an important step in letting congressional leadership know that homelessness programs like Medicaid, TANF, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants and other low-income housing and homelessness programs are key to stabilizing millions of families across America.
The Coalition has offered their toll-free number for the Capitol Switchboard which can connect you to your Member’s office: 1-866-922-4970
In addition, Families USA has made talking points and other fact sheets available through the following links:
Medicaid, Deficit Reduction and the “Super Committee”
Cutting and Restructuring Medicaid Should Not Be Part of Deficit Reduction
Medicaid’s Impact in the States: Helping People with Serious Health Care Needs
The Alliance has talking points specifically tailored to strategies for ending chronic homelessness through Medicaid and the need for the Super-Committee to preserve this key program.
The House and Senate are making decisions right now that will have a critical impact on funding for homelessness assistance programs. In order to prevent projected increases in homelessness, we need to increase federal funding for essential programs like the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. That is why we teamed up with the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding (CHCDF) to sponsor a National Call-In Week happening now.
First, some background information:
With the passage of the debt ceiling bill, Congress began work in earnest on fiscal year (FY) 2012 spending. Currently, the House and Senate are in the process of making final decisions on key programs such as McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. These final decisions are happening in conjunction with ongoing concerted efforts to cut spending and reduce the federal deficit. While homelessness programs have been fortunate enough to not have been cut, proposals so far have been to simply flat fund many of these programs, including the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. While we are grateful that these programs are unlikely to be cut, flat funding is simply not enough. As our recent report indicates, increasing federal funding is the only viable way to prevent an increase in homelessness.
The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will be working over the coming weeks to come to an agreement on funding levels for HUD and other programs before final legislation is passed. If the final legislation includes flat funding for McKinney-Vento Grants, there won’t be enough resources to effectively support the many Americans who are among the rising numbers of those experiencing homelessness.
What You Can Do
Contact your Members of Congress this week and urge them to give as much funding as possible to HUD, including an increase to HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. The goal of our call-in week is to convince Members of Congress to provide as much funding for HUD as possible in the short time that is left before they make final funding decisions.
It’s important that Members of Congress, especially those on the Appropriations Committees, request moving enough additional money into the FY 2012 HUD funding bill to provide for an increase in homelessness funding, and the more of their constituents that they hear from, the more likely they are to act.
For more information, or if you have questions, email Kate Seif at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some Helpful Resources:
Before we dive into the news of the week, I thought it might be helpful to do a quick refresher on the homelessness stats as we know them right now. (Because it never hurts to go over the facts.)
According to the last available Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, released in June of this year and reflecting 2010 data, there are:
- 649,917 people experiencing homelessness on any given night (up 1 percent since the year prior),
- 407,966 of those people are individuals; 241,951 of them are people in families,
- 109,812 of those people are experiencing chronic homelessness; 246,974 of those people are unsheltered.
Yesterday (on to the news portion of this post), the Alliance released a brief based on Census poverty data projecting that an additional 74,000 people would experience homelessness as a result of the rise in deep poverty and the impact of the recession. This rise would constitute a significant, five percent increase in the homeless population. Our thanks to both Mother Jones and the Chicago Reporter for covering this important news.
Poverty, it comes as no surprise, is associated to homelessness. As people have fewer and fewer resources, their housing stability often becomes jeopardized. As USA Today reported this week – and as we’ve discussed before – the number of people experiencing poverty is at historic levels leaving more and more people vulnerable to financial challenges – including homelessness. (Doesn’t help that, despite the people suggest about a softening housing market, affordable housing still eludes many).
The Washington Post reported that despite an extension to TANF that passed the Senate fairly unnoticed last week, the social safety net that protects our lowest-income and most vulnerable friends and neighbors is fraying dramatically. And if Congress and the supercommittee are unable to come together on the federal budget, the consequences could be dire.
But we can help each other. We can work to ensure that federal programs that benefit the vulnerable and poor are protected, even in this fraught political climate. If you’re interested in learning more about federal policy and advocating for homeless assistance programs, let us know! You can email us or check out the website to learn more.
Today’s post comes to us from Sam Strike, Alliance policy fellow.
Last month, Congress passed major deficit reduction legislation. Known as the Budget Control Act of 2011, this legislation created what they called a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction—more commonly referred to as the “Super-Committee.” This Committee is tasked with finding $1.5 trillion in additional deficit reduction, which could have a huge impact on ending homelessness. So it is vital to the homeless assistance community to ensure that these cuts don’t hurt our nation’s most vulnerable people.
Rather, the Super-Committee can continue the federal government’s long-standing, bipartisan commitment to ending homelessness by:
- Preventing further cuts in discretionary spending for affordable housing and targeted homelessness programs;
- Protecting Medicaid access to help reach the federal government’s long-standing goal of ending chronic homelessness; and
- Preserving low-income, safety net programs through a balanced approach to deficit reduction.
Members of Congress should be aware that slashing the budgets of programs working to end homelessness would be counter-productive. Stable housing helps people get back on their feet more quickly – avoiding the slog of extended stays in publically-funded shelters and social service programs. If these housing-centered programs are cut from the federal budget, the burden will just be shifted to state and local governments who will foot the bill of providing emergency shelters, local social service programs, mental health facilities, and emergency room visits by people who cannot afford them. The best way to end homelessness is to provide housing first. It’s the housing that will serve as the foundation necessary to promote self-sufficiency and independence.
We must make sure that those members of the Super-Committee understand the following, as they continue their work on deficit reduction:
- Homeless assistance programs are a very small part of the federal budget and are critical to the many Americans struggling to find affordable housing;
- Targeted homelessness assistance programs help people stabilize in housing, gain independence, re-enter the workforce, and create more opportunities for their children; and
- Key safety net programs like TANF and SSI provide income, employment, and other supports to low-income people, play a key role in efforts to prevent and end homelessness for the most vulnerable Americans.
So what can you do?
The Alliance has developed a policy brief providing recommendations to the Super-Committee and outlining the impact on homelessness should the Super-Committee process fail to produce the necessary savings. If your Member sits on the Super-Committee, call their office to request that he/she continues to support the federal government’s commitment to ending homelessness. Use the Alliance’s talking points or email Kate Seif if you have any questions.
The Super-Committee has until November 23 to release its proposal, and Congress must vote on the proposal by December 23. Now is the time to impact these decisions. Now is the time to act.
The Census Bureau released the latest poverty numbers last week, announcing that one in six Americans lived in poverty. Since then, there’s been an onslaught of related articles and local articles about the topic, from Connecticut to New York to Wisconsin to California. And while we may tend to think of poverty as an urban phenomenon, recent news articles suggest that poverty is spreading quickly in suburban areas across the country.
Why do we care? Because most people who experience homelessness were, before they were homeless, really poor. In fact, there is a relationship between the number of people living in deep poverty (living at below half the poverty line) and the number of people who experience homelessness. What that means for us is that the same programs that alleviate poverty for Americans also prevent homelessness. We’ve written before about protecting social services that benefit families at risk of experiencing homelessness like TANF and Medicaid; this is exactly what we were talking about.
Luckily, there are people who are thinking carefully and strategically about poverty. Alliance president Nan Roman was among them when she went to Texas last week to attend the first National Poverty Summit hosted by Catholic Charities. With other leaders in the field, she discussed ways to better serve the too many American people living in poverty.
We’re working on it. We’ll be discussing poverty and its relationship to homelessness – and what we can do about it – in the weeks to come. In the meantime, feel free to contact us with questions or comments or find us on Facebook and/or Twitter.
If you subscribe to our Advocacy Alerts you already know that the House Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to vote on its fiscal year (FY) 2012 funding today and the House Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee is expected to vote on its FY 2012 funding bill tomorrow. These funding bills can have a big impact on homeless programs. Find out how what you can do here.
Also on the policy side, President Obama is planning to release a proposal for job creation tonight.
Finally, the Census Bureau will release poverty data for 2010 on Tuesday, September 13. Our research associate Pete will be on hand to analyze this information in terms on homelessness. If you are on Twitter, make sure to follow the hash tag #povertydata for analysis (if not, tune in to this blog!).
Now to our News Roundup:
- Some states are attempting to balance their budgets by cutting benefits and cash assistance programs for already hard hit families.
- Also from the Times, economists warn we may be headed toward a “double dip” recession.
- Minnesota Public Radio interviews homeless youth about their struggles to find enough food. In this article an outreach worker discusses barriers service providers inadvertently set up for homeless youth that discourage them from seeking assistance.
- A new report by Pew Charitable Trusts finds that nearly one in three Americans who grew up middle-class has become downwardly mobile.