State budget cuts have stacked up against kids since the start of the recession. Take the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, for example. When state policymakers imposed a strict 60-month lifetime limit on cash assistance 23,925 people (8,374 adults and 15,551 children) lost all their monthly financial assistance. Despite following the rules of welfare reform, these parents are now left without assistance and work supports that were helping them provide for their children.
At the same time that the lifetime limit was imposed, parents participating in TANF saw a reduction in assistance. The benefit level was cut by 15%, so a family of three went from receiving $562 to only $478 a month. A new cap on family size meant that families with more than five members had their assistance cut by 20-40%. Not only does this reduction in cash assistance mean fewer dollars to help care for their children, but it changed the income threshold making it even harder for parents to qualify for the program.
With child poverty rates unacceptably high for all children and particularly in communities of color, these policy choices made poverty worse.
Starting Monday, July 1st families will see some positive changes—made possible by advocacy—that amount to steps forward. Some of these hard fought wins during the 2012 legislative session include:
- Restoring the income eligibility limit for Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) to 200% of the federal poverty level (approximately $38,000/year for a three person family), which means 2,500 families will gain access to child care.
- Extending the authorization period for all families receiving WCCC to twelve months. Previously, families were required to submit paperwork at least every six months, usually more often, even if their circumstances had not changed. This cumbersome process led to some families erroneously losing eligibility and thus being forced to remove their children from child care.
- Removing the barrier put in place last year by withdrawing the requirement that applicants seek child care enforcement in order to be eligible for child care assistance. This prevented parents who had cut off contact with their child’s other parent for domestic violence or other significant reasons from accessing child care.
- Bringing the cash assistance cap on family size back to the 2011 level, so the maximum TANF grant is $941 per month.
While these changes are a positive step forward, we know there is still a lot of work to be done. But, as our friends at Statewide Poverty Action Network (SPAN) point out, another win last session gives us more opportunity to influence what happens for parents and kids living in poverty. HB 2262 gave the Legislature more control over how TANF is administered. By moving the decision making to state legislators, we increased the number of public opportunities to influence those decisions!