While there was a fair amount of media coverage about the reduction in state child care assistance announced last week, there was less attention to the single largest category of that $51 million budget cut: the loss of financial assistance for low-income parents.
About 10,000 children are projected to lose Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance on February 1, 2011. This cash assistance (typically around $600/month), is used to help cover rent, utilities, food, clothing, school supplies and other basic needs. Losing what is often the only stable financial support in the middle of winter could be devastating to families who are already at the bottom of the economic ladder in a struggling economy.
While the state’s news release indicated the families who would still qualify for an extension of the five year limit on cash assistance, the information did not give details about the families who would not qualify and would lose assistance. We’ll do that. In a nutshell, families affected by this loss of assistance are families playing by the rules of welfare reform, doing everything the state requires of them, but they haven’t yet found full time employment. The parent could be working part-time or more likely participating in job search, community service, or job training.
We understand the difficult financial position of our state. Let’s be clear, though, that this issue is caused by increased demand for help, not overspending—welfare caseloads are up 30 percent.
For that reason, this budget cut has us scratching our heads, which are already swimming with questions. What principles were used to decide how to reduce the budget? What principles could possibly subject the most vulnerable to the largest reduction? What alternatives were considered and rejected?
The Children’s Alliance opposes this action—and the loss of child care assistance for approximately 2,500 families—and will be advocating for the preservation of a safety net of assistance for children in low income families. We urge Congress to extend TANF funding in September to prevent further damage. We also look to the 2011 legislative session for the opportunity to take a closer look at these and other policies and find alternatives that will protect children.
--Jon Gould, Deputy Director