Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you today. My name is HyeSook Chung. I’m executive director of DC Action for Children. Many of you may be familiar with our organization. We have been advocating in the District for nearly 20 years to break the cycle of poverty for children, youth and families. I don’t have to tell you that as a city, we have not been very successful on that count. Over the past 20 years, child poverty has actually risen across the country to nearly 22% -- the highest point in nearly two decades (Source: Foundation for Child Development).
In the District, of course, the rate is much higher: Nearly one in three children live in poverty. Thepoverty rate for black children in our city has risen dramatically in recent years to 43% – it was 31% in 2007. In 2009, 30,000 of black children in our city lived in poverty.
According to the 2010 Census, child poverty rates are changing unevenly across the District. While child poverty has declined significantly over the past decade in Wards 1, 2, 4 and 6, here in Ward 8, as well as Ward 7 and 5, it has increased slightly.
Poverty affects how children learn. Low-income children may have more limited vocabularies, are read to less often and live in homes with fewer books. They often lack access to educational activities and resources before kindergarten. As a result, they mayfall further behind their peers once they are in school. This chart shows: Before entering kindergarten, the average cognitive score of preschool-age children in the highest socioeconomic group is 60 percent above the average score of children in the lowest socioeconomic group. By age 4, children who live below the poverty line are 18 months behind what is normal for their age group—a gap that remains through at least age 10, and often far beyond. And that gap is even larger for children living in the poorest families. (National Center for Children in Poverty, 2007).
Today I’ve been ask to talk about TANF. I am not an expert on TANF by any means, but I can give you the broad strokes on how it is changing in the District and impacting child poverty and success. Let’s start with the basics. TANF stands for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. It is a form of direct cash assistance to low-income families with dependent children. It replaced a federal grant program called Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) in 1996. Eligibility for TANF is determined by a family’s assets and income. Also, children in the household must be considered “deprived of parental support.” That means that one parent is either absent or one or both parents is unemployed or has a disability. TANF is usually a last resort for families who can’t find work and don’t qualify for unemployment. Unlike the requirements under AFDC, TANF has work requirements for participants and restrictions on the length of time participants can receive benefits. It’s the T in TANF that is the controversial part. (In case you have time during your presentation)A few more key points about TANF: TANF is a block grant to states and states can decide how to allocate the funds. If states use more funding for cash assistance, they have less to use for other TANF-funded programs. States do not generally get more funds when caseloads rise. In fact, states are rewarded by the federal government for reducing TANF caseloads, even when the economy is weak.
The District has not enforced the federal 60-month (or 5 year) time limit for TANF – until now. With the budget crunch, the city is moving towards phasing out TANF benefits for families who are over the federal time limit as part of a broad TANF redesign that aims to provide more assistance in helping people secure employment. As of April 1, families who have received TANF for over 60 months will see a reduction in their benefit checks. Many families will have already received notices in the mail that their TANF benefits are being reduced.
Over the past few years, the number of families receiving TANF assistance nationally, and in the District, has increased as a result of the economic downturn. But while TANF cases have increased, they are rising at a much slower rate than other safety net programs, such as SNAP.
Across the District, TANF caseloads experienced an increase of only 1,043 children between 2007 and 2009, whereas the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) increased by over 3,000 children between 2007 and 2009.
In Ward 8 the number of children receiving TANF benefits increased by 7 percent from 2007 to 2009, from 9,239 to 9,914. Meanwhile the number of children receiving SNAP assistance in Ward 8 increased nearly 10 percent during that time, from 11,789 to 12,932. This has led researchers and advocates to conclude that TANF is not as responsive to economic downturns as it should be. As a safety net program, TANF needs to expand to more families who are pushed into poverty by an economic downturn. But the safety net is full of holes and with budget constraints, these holes are getting bigger.
Research tells us clearly that while cutting programs like TANF may produce savings in the short term, it would bring significant long term costs for our families and for our city. There is a growing body of research that tells us that parents’ income is a big factor in a child’s learning and achievement. In fact, it’s not just how much parents work, but how much parents earn that matters. A recent article by researchers Greg Duncan and Katherine Magnuson, published in the Stanford Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality, presents evidence that boosting the income of the poorest families has a significant impact on a child’s educational performance – whether or not parents were actually working more. So, direct cash assistance to unemployed parents makes a huge difference for children’s success. Poverty in early childhood reduces a child’s income potential over his or her lifetime. For families earning below $25,000, children whose family received a $3,000 boost to family income when children were under age 6 earned 17 percent more as adults and worked more hours than families who didn’t receive the income boost.
This is the case that advocates must make: Now is not the time to cut safety net programs for the District’s most vulnerable families. Cutting TANF now may bring short-term savings, but it will have long term costs for the District and for our children.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF):A look at changes in the District<br />HyeSook Chung, Executive DirectorDC Action for Children<br />Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative Annual Conference<br />Human and Social Service Forecast workshop<br />April 9, 2011<br />
In the District…<br />Nearly one in three children live in poverty. <br />The poverty rate for black children has risen dramatically in recent years to 43% (was 31% in 2007). <br />In 2009, 30,000 black children lived in poverty. <br /> Source: U.S. Census Bureau<br />
Child Poverty and Education: Hart & Risley, 1995<br />
TANF: the Basics<br />TANF = Temporary Assistance for Needy Families<br />Direct cash assistance to low-income families with dependent children, including work supports<br />Replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)<br />
What’s changing in the District?<br />April 1: Families who have received TANF for over 60 months will see a reduction in their benefit checks. <br />Source: D.C. Department of Human Services press release, Feb. 15, 2011<br />
Exceptions to TANF reductions<br />The following clients are not impacted by the 60-month reductions:<br />POWER Clients –locally funded program for clients who have a disability that prevents them from participating in work activities. <br />Child-Only Cases – these are cases where a relative is caring for the children. The parents are not in the home.<br />Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Recipients – these clients are not recipients of TANF, only the children receive a TANF benefit.<br />Source: D.C. Department of Human Services press release, Feb. 15, 2011<br />
Nationally, TANF cases are rising at a much slower rate than SNAP cases. <br />Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Jan. 2011<br />
In DC: During the recession, TANF cases increased by 4% and SNAP cases increased by 9%. <br />Number of cases<br />Source: Income Maintenance Administration, D.C. Dept. of Human Services<br />
In Ward 8, during the recession, TANF cases increased by 7 percent while SNAP cases increased by nearly 10 percent.<br />Number of cases<br />Source: Income Maintenance Administration, D.C. Dept. of Human Services<br />
Poverty in early childhood reduces a child’s income potential over his or her lifetime. <br />
Children in poverty whose parents do not receive income supports are less likely to succeed in school and life, and more likely to end up dependent on government assistance. <br />
Cutting TANF now will only perpetuate the cycle of poverty in our community. <br />