Children’s Law Center policy director Sharra Greer testified today before the Committee on Human Services for a budget hearing for the Department of Human Services. Her testimony focused on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Read a summary below or her full written testimony as submitted to the committee.
Children’s Law Center helps more than 2,000 children and families a year, many of whom receive TANF benefits. TANF is a life-sustaining bridge for many families in the deepest of poverty. By definition, all families receiving TANF aid have children, and nearly half of DC’s TANF recipients have at least one child under the age of 3 in the home. Research is clear that stress and trauma during this time, including stress caused by poverty and associated abuse and neglect, can have lifelong negative consequences. Cuts in TANF benefits link directly to poor health outcomes and increased child hunger. There is also an alarming link to increased child maltreatment.
The District and DHS have been working to reform and redesign the TANF program, and Children’s Law Center supports these efforts. But a key piece of reform is missing from the proposed budget – exceptions to time limits for staying on the program. Exceptions for disability or status as a victim of domestic violence already exist in other DC law as times when families are not required to be engaged in work activity, and many other states include these exceptions as well. Failure to include them in DC laws defining the TANF program financially penalizes families and has lasting consequences for young children.