Posts Tagged ‘TANF’
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: we can – and must – save the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF).
And we’re not the only ones that think so. In the last few days, you may have noticed that the innocuous welfare program has received an unusual amount of ink. Stories praising the job-creating program have run in the Chicago Tribune and Huffington Post – among countless other publications.
We hate to say we told you so but we did call it. This stimulus program is making a difference where it’s needed most: offering cash assistance to low-income families, providing housing aid, and subsidizing jobs. In fact, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the program has created 250,000 subsidized jobs for low-income parents and youth across the country.
But the program is about to come to a grinding halt. TANF ECF will expire on September 30 if Congress doesn’t act now.
We need you to tell them how.
Senator John Kerry (D-MA) is circulating a sign-on letter for his colleagues in the Senate to join. He wants them to sign the letter to urge Senate leaders to extend the ECF right away and provide a one-year, $2.5 billion extension of ECF to allow states to access additional funds and continue subsidizing jobs for low-income families and youth.
Want to know what you can do?
- Call your senators TODAY (If you don’t know the number, you can find out by calling the Congressional Switchboard at 202-224-3121).
- Ask to speak to the person who handles welfare issues for the senator.
- Urge the welfare staff member to get their boss to sign onto Senator Kerry’s sign-on letter.
But act now! The deadline for senators to join the sign-on letter is next Wednesday, September 15 at noon ET.
We’re looking at Objective 6: Improve access to mainstream programs and services to reduce people’s financial vulnerability to homelessness.
To learn more about this objective, I turned to Sharon McDonald, Senior Policy Analyst at the Alliance (who will be writing about rapid re-housing as a way to relieve growing shelter populations tomorrow – stay tuned!) .
The first thing I wanted to know was what was meant by “mainstream programs”.
Mainstream programs are those not specifically designed to aid the homeless population or to tackle homelessness issues, but the bigger programs that can help people before they become homeless (and after, if need be), such as those that deal with jobs or income. We’re talking about things like Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Unemployment Insurance (UI), and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), which is currently in real danger (we did a whole WEEK of posts about saving TANF.)
These programs are meant to reach large portions of the population with lower incomes. These programs are the first lines of defense for preventing people from becoming homeless by providing cash assistance, job placement aid, and other critical services.
The federal plan aims to improve access to these programs. If these mainstream programs could serve more people, we could stop homelessness before it starts. And, the very specific programs that are tailored to tackle homelessness would be able to serve those people who truly require that aid.
This is a sound strategy. Mainstream are already designed to handle lots of people. So when looking for programs to help end and prevent homelessness, why start from scratch? We can improve existing programs that already serve the needs of low-income individuals and families and make sure that more people can access them before their housing situations fall apart.
It’s not an easy task. With these hard economic times, budget cuts at the state and federal level make it hard to improve and expand these programs. But now is not the time to turn our backs on the most vulnerable people in our communities. If current trends are any indication, those in situations that put them at risk of homelessness will only increase in the future.
Let’s curb the problem before it starts by investing in what works.
As a refresher, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 created the TANF ECF. The fund can be used to reimburse states for up to 80 percent of increased spending for providing:
- non-recurrent, short-term payments (e.g. four months of rental assistance for homeless families, security deposit and first month’s rent, utility assistance);
- basic assistance (cash grants to low-income families); and
- subsidized employment.
TANF ECF has made a difference for states – creating jobs and offering the assistance states may need help providing in this time of tight state budgets. Articles and blogs and policy analysis have noted the significance of this overlooked – and quickly expiring – recovery program.
We want to make sure that you fully understand the program – and then take the next step to call your senate office to tell them what you think. The Alliance has produced a number of articles and policy analyses about TANF ECF – and the importance of keeping the valuable, effective program from expiring. And there’s also information about family homelessness – TANF ECF is sometimes discussed in relationship to preventing and ending family homelessness.
Across the country, families are downsizing their housing, doubling up with extended family or friends, moving into motels, and seeking help from homelessness prevention and shelter programs. The Recovery Act provided new funds including the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) and the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF) to help communities grapple with the increased needs of families impacted by the recession.
With so many families facing homelessness, it is critical to maximize all available resources to help families. We must connect with Members of Congress to educate them about the impact of homelessness on families and communities, and – most importantly – the role social programs are playing in meeting the needs of vulnerable individuals and families.
This includes funding for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Programs, Housing Choice Voucher Program, and the National Housing Trust Fund. It also includes advocating for an extension to the TANF ECF which is providing rental assistance to help families stay housed and subsidized employment that helps families escape poverty (see yesterday’s excellent post about action needed on the TANF ECF).
Maximizing resources also means making sure that local programs to help low-income and homeless families and children are as efficient and as effective as possible. This means evaluating whether HPRP and other resources are reaching the families they are designed to serve. Are homelessness prevention programs screening out those families most likely to become homeless because they seem unable to pay for housing independently after receiving assistance? Are rapid re-housing programs implemented broadly enough to reduce the strain on shelters and transitional housing programs and reduce the likelihood that families will be refused shelter? Are local programs coordinated around a common vision for ending family homelessness to improve access and efficiency of resources community-wide? Are stakeholders engaged in evaluating data to assess the impact of the local investments in ending homelessness and making modifications to improve performance?
Our new report Ending Family Homelessness: Lessons From Communities examines the promising strategies communities are using to end family homelessness by making the most of available resources. These promising strategies can be replicated, adapted, and refined to improve our communities’ and our nation’s responses to families facing homelessness.
For more information about family homelessness, check out the website.
Don’t forget guys, the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund is an effective, efficient program that plays a significiant role in preventing and ending family homelessness. Act now to keep it from disappearing forever.
It’s been called the “best kept secret” of the federal stimulus plan, and unless the Senate acts soon, it will be over in just a couple months, which would be devastating for families who are homeless or are just barely avoiding homelessness. It’s the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF), which the Alliance has advocated using to support homeless families since the ECF began, and which I have been exploring for almost two months now as part of my summer internship.
Because I worked directly with homeless families in my former (pre-law school) life, it’s been more than a little frustrating for me this summer to learn how easily such a good program—for homeless families, for all families who are struggling economically, and for whole communities—can fall through the legislative cracks. The TANF ECF extension was originally part of H.R. 4213, which failed to pass the Senate until it was stripped of all its elements except unemployment insurance (UI). No one seems to know now what will happen to all the other vital programs that were originally included in H.R. 4213, but the Alliance is organizing an advocacy push in hopes of getting things moving again. The stated concern of some Senators about the original legislation was the contribution to the federal deficit (which may not be warranted, btw), but now that UI has been passed on its own, the rest of these programs (including ECF and the National Housing Trust Fund) are all offset and won’t contribute to the deficit. So what’s the hold up, especially when this program is helping not just struggling families but struggling businesses?!
See, that’s the really cool thing about ECF, which CNN Money called “A stimulus program even a Republican can love”! TANF ECF can be used by states in any of three categories: basic assistance (to supplement the regular assistance programs TANF already administers), short-term, non-recurrent benefits (a wide range of preventive and supportive benefits, available even to families who aren’t already receiving TANF), and subsidized employment.
Many homeless providers are taking advantage of ECF’s short-term benefits to supplement and stretch their HPRP funds, including Utah’s The Road Home. And more and more states are taking advantage of the subsidized employment possibilities made available to them through ECF to create some 200,000 jobs, which can be used to serve families at higher income cut-offs than the regular TANF assistance program. These jobs are the real stars of the ECF show because they enable families who are homeless or are struggling economically to improve their incomes (which is an essential part of ending homelessness, of course) and they benefit local businesses and organizations that are also struggling in these tough economic times by allowing them to expand and employ more workers without expending capital that many of them don’t have right now.
It’s a win-win situation for entire communities like Perry County, TN, whose economy was devastated after its major employer, an auto parts factory, closed. And it can be a win-win situation for even more communities across the country if the Senate would only move this legislation along.
Extending TANF ECF would allow states to maintain the impressive subsidized employment programs they’ve begun and would allow states that don’t have subsidized employment programs to begin to implement them, increasing the well-being of families who are homeless and who are struggling across the country before that opportunity is “Going, Going,” and totally gone.
You can save TANF ECF. Call your Senators and ask to speak to the person who works on housing issues (you can find your Congressional office phone numbers by calling the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121). Tell them to make sure their boss works to protect TANF ECF before it’s too late.
As the end date for possible extension of the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund draws ever nearer, we hear more and more pleas for Congress to pass funds for this important program that has done so much in helping end and prevent homelessness.
Related: The Wall Street Journal talked this week about the federal poverty level, an important measurement that helps us understand more about how many people could be at risk for homelessness. We’re pleased to see that notable news organizations and important thinkers are paying attention to the state of poverty and vulnerability of so many Americans.
Especially because it seems like the problem is prevalent: a startling statistic came out of Indiana this week. According to AP writer Ken Kusmer the number of homeless students has increased 26 percent in the state since 2006-07. We saw a string of similar stories in the year – is this a resurgence of that trend?
Which doesn’t mean there’s isn’t help to be had. The Pittsburg Post-Gazette wrote this week about how HPRP funds are being used prevent evictions in Westmoreland County, PA, and the Sequim Gazette wrote about great homeless assistance work in Clallam County – work that was highlighted at the Alliance’s national conference in July as one of five high-performing counties in preventing and ending homelessness. Great work!
And finally – the big news – the danger posed on the House T-HUD spending bill – we called it H.R. 5850 yesterday, has passed. The members withdrew their Amendment so the bill will go through as intended. An advocacy alert is going out shortly (to receive it, sign up) and details will follow today on this blog.
Have a great weekend, everyone!
In the policy realm, PETRA (Preservation, Enhancement and Transformation of Rental Assistance Act) has been rapidly introduced and pushed into Congress, with mixed support. TANF, though, is still being praised, but the effort to have it extended is ever in need of support. (So show yours by calling your members of Congress!)
Many people still struggle with high rates of homelessness, particularly female veterans. However many programs that have been underway for years in places like Washington, D.C. are proving to be effective at reducing and ending hoemlessness.
Also, the Washington Post is doing it’s part to change the ways Americans see homelessness. Last week, the Post published an article entitled “Five Myths About America’s Homeless”, which was written by our Research Council co-chair Dennis Culhane. The acclaimed scholars refuted some of the major misconceptions about homelessness – and people experiencing homelessness, shedding light on the realities of the experience – and the solutions to the social problem.
Lastly, with our conference this week and all the great new federal efforts supporting the fight to end homelessness, one has to wonder, where do we go from here? Our President Nan Roman offers her view.
This week we’ve seen a lot of love for TANF. We have talked about it a lot, and this week CNN Money and the New York Times both noted how important the program is, and why it’s important to keep it funded. LaDonna Pavetti from the Center on Budget on Policy Priorities also offered her perspective for the continuation of the program.
CNN also put out an interesting piece this week about a group of homeless teens, which helped illustrate the hardships homeless youths experience. (In case you missed it: we talked about homeless youths just yesterday.)
Out of Austin, TX we are unfortunately seeing more of one of the main causes of homelessness: a lack of affordable housing. However, in Western Massachusetts and Asheville, NC, programs intended to reduce homelessness are proving effective.
Finally, the new federal plan is still a hot topic, and many critical reviews of the plan are circulating around.
And there’s no doubt that the plan is exactly what Secretary Donovan will be discussing during his keynote speech at our own – you got it – Annual Conference! Next time we blog, we’ll be live-blogging from the Hyatt!
And we’re back!
As the Alliance’s new media intern, I’m really excited to be writing this series, because every time I examine one of these goals, I get to learn about a new aspect of homelessness and solutions to homelessness (and really, that’s what the Alliance is all about).
This week we’ll be looking at Objective 10: “Transform homeless services to crisis response systems that prevent homelessness and rapidly return people who experience homelessness to stable housing.”
To learn more about this objective, I talked to Norm Suchar, our new (!) Director of the Center for Capacity Building (formerly senior policy analyst at the Alliance).
The first thing I tried to wrap my head around was what this objective meant, and why it was part of the federal plan.
Right now, the “crisis response system” in place is shelters. When someone encounters an event that creates a situation where they can no longer afford housing, the first response is to put them in a shelter.
This shelter system, however, is not effective if we are to eradicate homelessness. The crisis response system for homelessness needs to be transformed, so that when someone enters a crisis situation and that person’s housing needs are addressed, we turn to permanent solutions and not just shelter.
The system needs to be pretty sophisticated.
We’ll need to figure out what happened with each person and create customized solutions using the resources available to someone in that specific situation. And situations vary wildly: sometimes it’s a problem with a landlord; in this case, conflict management of the situation should be attempted. Maybe a person lost their job and can’t afford the rent this month; in that case, we could offer rent subsidies or rent assistance so that the person has some time to find employment.
These strategies that prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place – and that’s what a crisis response should be doing.
How will we achieve this?
The federal plan suggests several strategies, among them – the $1.5 billion stimulus-funded program Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP).
The program is a primary tool in changing the infrastructure of the system. HPRP funds are intended to focus on key strategies to prevent and end homelessness – including prevention strategies and rapid re-housing strategies. Communities across the country are utilizing HPRP to systematically transform the way they approach homelessness at the local level. (In fact, we’re doing some reporting on it!)
Another key is to integrate mainstream poverty programs.
It’s no surprise that there exist federal programs to help vulnerable and low-income people and families, including Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid (now new and improved as a result of health care reform), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This is by no means an exhaustive list of available resources – but only by leveraging all the resources available for vulnerable individuals and families will we truly be able to assist families out of homelessness.
The moral at the heart of this story is transformation. We can transform systems that exist today so that they’re more proactive about preventing homelessness before it starts – and when it occurs, ending it swiftly with rapid re-housing techniques.
The TANF ECF is this extra pool of money helped TANF support more families during the recession and we were looking to have it renewed so that more support would be available. For more information about the TANF ECF (and family homelessness!) check out yesterday’s blogpost.
The second is the NHTF, a program created under President Bush to create affordable housing. Unfortunately, when the program was created, no money was allocated to it (it’s pretty hard to develop affordable housing with no money, FYI). The tax extenders bill would fund (we call that “capitalize”) NHTF – and more affordable housing means fewer people experiencing homelessness.
Unfortunately, last Thursday, June 24th, the House-approved bill was shut down in the Senate, with a 57 to 41 vote (60 votes were needed to pass it). Republicans and some others claimed to have withheld support because portions of the bill remained unfunded. No timeline was set as to when the tax extenders bill would be picked back up.
All in all, this means that we don’t know if the programs we mentioned will be receiving funding or if these program that help people experiencing homelessness will be able to serve as many people as they would like.
But we’ll have another chance to make a difference around the corner. Next week, the House subcommittee in charge of the HUD budget will be marking up their FY 2011 budget. So while we’ve lost this battle (for now), we can still make a difference for people experiencing homelessness and for our communities. Stay tuned to find out how YOU can help!