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Testimony: Hearing on TANF Time Limits and Sanctions 2012

Policy director Sharra Greer testified today in front of the DC Council Committee on Human Services at a hearing focused on two measures impacting the District’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Time limits that prevent TANF recipients from getting benefits more than 60 months are set to go into effect; a bill introduced by Councilmembers Jim Graham and Michael A. Brown would adjust the schedule of when these limits would take effect and add exemptions for some recipients. Another policy addresses sanctions for TANF recipients who do not fulfill obligations on their TANF Individual Responsibility Plans. Read a summary below or review Greer’s full testimony as submitted to the Council.

TANF aid is only available for families with children. In the District, where 31% of children live below the poverty line, TANF is an important mechanism to help a family through difficult financial times. As of January 2012, there were 17,602 open TANF cases in DC that included 31,404 children. Nearly half of these families included at least one child under age 3. There is no dispute that DC’s TANF program needs significant reform, and a redesign has been launched in the past year. So far the pilot has been a success, and TANF recipients in the pilot dramatically increased participation in work activities. The Department of Human Services, which manages TANF, is now working to expand the redesign to all TANF recipient families.

Under current law, families who have received TANF for at least 60 months are subject to cuts, without any exemptions. The next round of cuts are set to take effect in October 2012. Given the unfolding reform of the TANF program, the TANF Time Limit Amendment Act of 2012 (B19-704) would delay these cuts until October 2013. It would also recognize that there may be vulnerable times in TANF recipients’ lives that should not count toward their 60-month limit, such as during pregnancy or during recovery from domestic violence.

TANF recipients are expected to follow Individual Reponsibility Plans, and sanctions are possible if they do not comply. “There are reasons to be skeptical of any kind of financial sanction for families who need the subsistence level support provided by TANF,” Greer said in her written testimony. “Sanctions do not simply provide a short-term punishment for the non-compliant person, but they can have life-long consequences for the children in these families.” Moreover, the sanctions are harsh on even the children of these families. Steps 2 and 3 of the proposed sanctions punish the entire family – which leaves families with children, many of them very young, without income for 3 to 6 months.