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.