By Christy Ulmet
Nearly 13,000 children will be affected by benefit cuts to the District’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, warned DC City Council member Jim Graham.
He spoke at a roundtable discussion held to weigh the impact of a 41.7 percent reduction in benefits that went into place Oct 1 for families who have received welfare benefits for more than 60 months.
“This city is flushed with cash right now; a billion dollars plus in our checking and our savings accounts, while we have to find this small amount of money on the backs of the poorest of this, our residents. And that’s the whole calamity here,” noted Graham, who chairs the council’s human services committee.
The new benefit reductions are the latest in a series of scheduled cuts put into place in 2011 as part of a city welfare reform initiative intended to move longterm beneficiaries into training and jobs.
Yet thousands of families continue to depend upon assistance from the District’s family welfare program to put food on the table and shoes on their feet, witnesses testified Oct 3 in the quiet hearing room at the John A. Wilson building Friday.
TANF provides temporary cash assistance to families with dependent children when
those families’ needs cannot be fully met by the their own efforts, according to the
District of Columbia Department of Human Services.
Graham challenged officials from the city Department of Health and Human Services, asking them to
look ahead at the effect the cuts would have on future generations.
“What message are we sending to [these kids] when we’re not telling them about
how they have to survive? Are we going to reap this in the future? Because what we
sow we shall reap. There will be payback for every single one of these dollars we’re
taking away from this program,” Graham said.
The 25 percent cut in benefits for families who went over their 60 month limit last year had a deep inpact, DC Assistant Deputy Auditor Laura M. Hopman testified. A study by the Office of the Auditor found that affected families struggled to buy necessities including clothing, school uniforms, and over-the-counter medications.
Another study found that at least 10 percent of the parents in the TANF program
reported a behavioral or attitude problem with their children that they believe came
as a result of previous cuts. Witnesses expressed concerns about how
the new reductions will affect children in the program.
Graham opened up the floor inviting mothers in the program, attorneys representing beneficiaries and others to speak.
Many of the witnesses described their fears about the effect of the cuts. One sentiment, echoed by many in the room, was that the reductions could result in an increased crime rate. Attorneys explained that as the weather cools off, people might get desperate and turn to stealing to provide for themselves and for their families.
Chamil Bryant, mother of three, described the financial situation in her household.
Her family has been on the TANF program for 11 years, well past the program’s
five-year limit. However, Bryant explained that she’s supposed to be exempt from
the changes because she is in an additional program, which represents those with
health restraints that limit their ability to work.
Bryant spoke of her struggle to pay the bills and to provide for her children’s needs,
like tennis shoes.
She described how her cycle of struggles has only gotten worse through the years.
“I don’t know how I’m going to get off this hamster wheel. When I’ve tried in the
past to get a job, this [program] has cut me off immediately. Before I’m able to even contact them, they’re sending me a letter already, saying, ‘Hey we’ve cut more than half of your TANF,’” Bryant said.
With no end in sight to these cuts, the future is unclear for the recipients of TANF.
The hearing was expected to be the first of many in the days to come, as many of the
program’s beneficiaries were left with questions by the end of the hearing.
“How am I going to raise my children to be good citizens when we don’t even have
the money to barely buy toilet tissue, or get on the bus for that matter?” Bryant