Posts Tagged ‘TANF’
Last week, the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services hosted the 15th Annual Welfare Research and Evaluation Conference in Washington, DC. This conference provides welfare and poverty researchers, state and local administrators, practitioners, and Federal officials to meet and discuss research, programs, and policies that impact welfare and related programs.
This year, the conference featured tracks on TANF, education and the labor market, child and youth well-being, fatherhood, evaluation of social programs, and alleviating poverty and strengthening the safety net. While a number of the sessions at the conference had implications for homeless families, individuals, and youth, there was a session specifically dedicated to the role that TANF and other human services programs play in ending family homelessness.
The session was moderator by the Alliance’s own Sharon McDonald, Director of Families and Youth, and featured:
- Dennis Culhane of the University of Pennsylvania who provided an overview of his widely accepted typology of homeless families and discussed the important role that short- and medium-term rent assistance in ending homelessness for a large proportion of homeless families;
- Frank Cirillo of the Mercer County Board of Social Services in New Jersey who discussed the successful efforts in Mercer County to fund rapid re-housing for families using TANF funds; and
- Alvaro Cortes from Abt Associates who provided a broad overview of findings from a study that looked at how communities are linking housing supports with social services.
A detailed agenda of the conference is available and electronic copies of powerpoint presentations from the above workshop as well as from other workshops from the conference are available upon request via email.
Today, we pause to revisit the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Sharon McDonald, Director for Families and Youth at the Alliance, shares her thoughts about welfare.
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.
The news is not so good.
According to researchers Sheila Zedlewski, Pamela Loprest, and Erika Huber, TANF did not play a significant role in keeping families economically stable during the recession. In fact, there were many states in which the number of people enrolled in the TANF program declined (this study specifically looks at years 2007 to 2010) while unemployment rose dramatically. Of particular note is the state of Arizona, where TANF rolls declined by 48 percent while unemployment in Arizona rose by 134 percent.
The finding is curious. TANF is meant to assist poor families with cash assistance and promote self-sufficiency and work. Why then, during a time of economic turmoil and high unemployment, would poor families not take advantage of TANF benefits?
Reduced TANF use has left a number of families in dire financial situations, what the writers of the brief call “disconnected.” “Disconnected” families have no earnings of cash government assistance of any kind. The writers found that in 1996, one in eight low-income single mothers was disconnected; that jumped to one in five disconnected single mothers from 2004 to 2008.
And this is the kind of economic vulnerability that leads to homelessness.
Mainstream welfare programs, like TANF, are often a bridge for many poor people and families between homelessness and housing. Most poor people – and people who become homeless are typically poor people – have scant resources. Depriving a family of even one of those resources can lead the family to tumble into homelessness.
At the end of the brief, the Urban Institute recommends policy measures that could improve the utility and effectiveness of the TANF program, especially during recessionary periods. Among the recommendations are:
- encouragement of subsidized job programs
- allowing training and job education to count towards work activity requirements during times of high unemployment
- permitting federal block grant funds to rise automitcally for states experiencing high unemployment
And finally, the brief concludes with a sentiment that is often felt in our offices. While the temptation to cut such social programs, especially in this fiscal environment, may loom large, we must not forget the role that these precious programs play in the lives of people who have few if any other resources.
For months now, the Alliance and like-minded interest groups had warned against the impact of the recession on state budgets. (In fact, Nan discussed it in the Washington Post after the release of The State of Homelessness in America.)
States, already feeling pressure on their financial resources, strained to meet the needs of the increasing number of people and families seeking public assistance as they experienced job loss, unemployment, and other economic distress as a result of the recession.
And now, at least in Washington state, it seems that the pressure has finally come to a hilt. The state has decided to reduce their TANF program by 15 percent – cutting nearly 5,000 families off welfare.
Clearly this is exactly the wrong time to deny struggling families the resources they need to avoid economic turmoil – like homelessness. While the recession may be over in theory, communities across the country can testify to the increased – and sometimes still increasing – number of people seeking charitable as they continue to struggle.
And frankly, we all saw it coming. The Alliance examined state budgets in the research newsletter last fall, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published a number of briefs about TANF and the Emergency Contingency Fund, and on this very blog, we asked you to support the extension of TANF ECF, a small, effective, and efficient federal program helping people find jobs, avoid homelessness, and support their families. Certainly, we could’ve headed this off with the right programs.
Because Washington will not be the last place where families are denied public assistance because the state can no longer provide it. Indeed, Washington will likely be the first of many states to turn families away, leaving those families at risk of homelessness and more economic misfortunes.
Photo courtesy of billaday.
Yesterday, the Senate Appropriations Committee released a draft proposal for fiscal year (FY) 2011 appropriations, which includes funding for many homeless assistance programs.
- $2.2 billion for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants ($145 million more than the House propsed and $335 million more than last year);
- $125.7 million for Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) programs ($10 million more than the House proposal and last year’s funding level);
- $85 million for 10,000 vouchers under the proposed new Housing and Services for Homeless Persons Demonstration;
- $75 million for 10,000 new HUD-VA Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers; and
- $159.4 million for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) programs targeted toward people experiencing homelessness ($17 million more than the House proposal and last year’s funding levels).
In short: this is great news for the homeless assistance programs we want to support!
The Senate is expected to vote on this package this week – possibly as soon as tomorrow, so we need your help!
What You Can Do:
- Call your senators TODAY. In case you can’t find it online, you can find congressional office phone numbers by calling the switchboard at 202-224-3121.
- Ask to speak to the person who works on housing and tell the housing staff person to urge his/her boss to support the funding levels for the homelessness assistance programs listed above.
- Email any responses to Kate Seif (or call: 202-942-8281).
You know the story: Congress is trying to figure out how to allocate federal dollars – it’s commonly known as “appropriations”. It’s a legislative battle every year – and we’ve asked for your help before. We’ve asked you to support McKinney-Vento funding, assistance to homeless veterans, extension of the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund, and lots of other really important programs.
And right now is exactly the time when we can make a difference. Congress must complete the appropriations process by Saturday, Dec. 18 – it’s when the government technically runs out of money.
So act fast! This is our moment. And, of course, thanks for all your help!
I am going to start off with the good news first because I know the East coast has had a rough week! We at the Alliance got a little recognition today for our work helping the The Lincoln Homeless Coalition revamp the way they serve homeless families. Which, faithful reader, you already know all about from this blog. So kudos to our CAP team! (Want the CAP team in your community? Check out the website.)
Working at the Alliance may make me biased but I was convinced even more this week about the importance of homelessness research. In order to effectively solve a problem, we must first fully understand it. And the research can be hard to swallow – like this report from Toronto – which indicates that homeless youth, particularly lesbian and bisexual women and young people of color, are overwhelmingly victims of crime. Why on earth would anyone victimize a homeless kid?
But with every cloud comes a silver lining. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) has urged members of the Senate to designate these kind of violent attacks against people experiencing homelessness as hate crimes. This act, the “Hate Crimes Against the Homeless Statistics Act,” would lead to stiffer penalties for perpetrators and mandate the collection of data on this problem – which hopefully will lead to better solutions. All this because of reports that violent attacks of this nature have been on the rise here in the United States. See how important data can be??
Speaking of research, despite overwhelming evidence and countless case studies, some people are still apprehensive about Housing First programs. Nashville has struggled with this, as well as New Orleans, this time against units that would provide permanent supportive housing. Admittedly, it’s not a popular strategy, especially for community members. But it’s one that has repeatedly demonstrated success – and it’s the best strategy we know to effectively end homelessness. And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?
Finally, the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF) expired yesterday. The New York Times profiled a community in Tennessee that expects to be hit hard by this loss, and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities rounded up how some states will feel the burn. This is disappointing news, but now is not the time to throw in the towel!
We know that our supporters are committed to ending homelessness – roadblocks or no roadblocks! You can still make an impact – call your senators and speak to the housing staffer. Tell them their boss should commit to restoring TANF ECF and capitalizing the Trust Fund this year. Let us know in the comments how it goes! (Find you Senators’ phone number through the congressional switchboard: 202-224-3121.)
So, here’s the update.
Today, the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF) expires.
You’re read all about it on our blog. You know what the program does. You know that it’s an effective, affordable initiative that not only gets results but helps thousands of vulnerable Americans by providing financial assistance and creating jobs (and if you don’t, check out this post).
So it’s a low down dirty shame that the U.S. Senate has decided to let this program fold. Worse still that as a result of the expiration, 240,000 people could lose their jobs tomorrow, even today. Articles in both Mother Jones and Campus Progress explain the consequences of the end of this program, including the effect it’ll have on people in poverty, vulnerable families, and 99ers.
It’s worth noting here that there are some senators who stepped up to the plate. Senator John Kerry (D- MA) tried to circulate a sign-on letter urging his colleagues to support an extension of the program. Senator Dick Durbin (D – IL) also noted that the program had been critical in his state of Illinois.
And we can’t underestimate the gratitude that we owe you – for calling on your senators to ask them to support this important program.
But you win some, you lose some. And at the end of the day, this social safety net program will expire leaving thousands of Americans with even fewer resources in this time of economic turmoil. We can and must do better. As need will inevitably continue to rise, we can make sure that we take an even more active, engaged approach to helping the most vulnerable of our neighbors.
We may have lost the round, but there are plenty more legislative battles ahead. Stay tuned to the blog for more opportunities to get involved. And in the meantime, take a moment of silence to mark the passing of TANF ECF.
Urge Congress to save TANF ECF by calling your senator now.
- Call your senators and ask to speak to the person who works on welfare issues. Don’t know the number? Call the congressional switchboard to find out: 202-224-3121.
- When the staffer who works on welfare issues picks up, ask him or her to urge their boss (read: the senator) to call Senate leaders and tell them that they support extending TANF ECF.
- If you can, report back! We want to hear what happened – what they said, what they promised, if they had any objections. Learning about your efforts can help us make a more concerted try with ours. Call (202-942-2856), email, or drop us a note here or on Facebook.
Remember: The ECF was created as part of the Recovery Act, intended to help states support the increasing number of people receiving TANF due to the recession. Since it passed, the program has:
- provided cash assistance to low-income families;
- provided short-term rent assistance to families experiencing a housing crisis; and
- created 250,000 subsidized employment opportunities nationally, many of which will end on September 30 if Congress does not act to extend the funding.
So headlining the news this week (or at least yesterday) are the poverty numbers. No surprises: poverty, uninsured, up in 2009.
The nation’s official poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3 percent, up from 13.2 percent in 2008. The number of people without health insurance coverage rose from 46.3 million in 2008 to 50.7 million in 2009, or an increase from 15.4 percent to 16.7 percent of the total population. You can check out the full report on the census website.
What’s that mean? Well, from our perspective, it means that there are more people at risk of experiencing homelessness. If you remember our brief on ”sustainable cost burden”, you know that more than half of poor families spend more than half their monthly income for housing (this is often termed “severe housing cost burden.”) You might also remember that severe housing cost burden is up among individuals and families doubled up.
With need so high, this is exactly the wrong time to be rising the elimination of TANF ECF. This job-creating service to the most vulnerable families is in danger of expiring at the end of the month. We’ve written about it before and there are daily stories cropping up the program’s importance. It seems that the program may be seeing rays of hope – but that doesn’t mean you should rest on your laurels. If you haven’t already (and you better have!) call your senator today.
An interesting report shows that housing problems have become the primary subject of employee-assistance calls. According to reporting from USA Today, child care had long reigned as the subject of employee assistance calls but – staring January 2010 – housing became the primary concern.
And of course, the biggest news of the week is the ending of our photo contest! Submissions are due no later than midnight today. So get in those photos! For inspiration, check out the submissions we’ve received so far in our Flickr album.
If April is the cruelest month, then September – it seems – is the TANF month
(Okay, bad joke.)
Nonetheless, it’s been all TANF, all the time.
So here’s the story: TANF is a program that helps low-income families. It provides block grants to states and the funds are used to curb child child expenses and promote work preparation and opportunities. In the face of the recession, more and more families were in need of such assistance and the federal government created the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund – an extra pot of money that could help states with up to 80 percent of increased TANF assistance requests. States and think tanks alike have reported that the emergency fund has been a lifeline for both states and the families in those states requiring aid.
But here’s where the bad news comes in. The emergency fund is set to expire on September30 of this year if it isn’t renewed by the Senate (the House has already voted for an extension).
This seemingly innocuous little welfare program has gotten a decent amount of ink in the last few weeks. It hasn’t been the firestorm set off by Quran-burning or midterm elections, but in national and local news sources alike, stories popped up like plastic whac-a-moles.
In Connecticut, the New Haven Register ran a story about the federal program’s implications in the state. The article cited an excellent report by the Center for Budget and Policy priorities in which LaDonna Pavetti (author of the report) called TANF ECF an “effective jobs program” and that eliminating it would “put more people out of work right now.” The Register noted that emergency fund employed 6,461 people in the state. In Chicago, the Public News Service warned of “thousands of jobs to disappear by the end of September,” in a city where the emergency fund contributed to 25,000 subsidized jobs through a program called “Put Illinois to Work”.
TANF ECF also made an appearance in the Huffington Post. According to the online news source, the program is responsible for creating 240,000 jobs across the country – jobs that are in danger of vanishing when the funding dries up. The article quotes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying the program is “as positive an initiative for job creation as you can make,” noting that the House had passed reauthorization for the emergency fund. The article also quoted Christine Owens, director of the National Employment Law Project who said, “The emergency fund has tremendously helped states create new employment opportunities…If Congress fails to reauthorize the Fund, those subsidies will vanish along with the job opportunities they provide.”
The program even received global attention this week, with a piece in the International Business Times. Writer Manikandan Raman concludes that, “The failure to extend the program would eliminate tens of thousands of jobs and throw away an opportunity to create additional jobs.”
What can you do? Glad you asked! There’s a sliver of time left to persuade your senator to make a difference. The Alliance and other advocacy organizations are supporting the effort led by Sen. John Kerry (D – MA). The Senator is circulating a sign-on letter encouraging the Senate to pass the extension of the emergency fund. For more information about the effort – and to find out how you can contact YOUR senator – check out a previous post.