In Focus

Jun 23, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Bad Policy for Kansas; Bad Policy for America

By Randi Hall

Last month, U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) introduced the “Welfare Abuse Prevention Act” (S.1288), which would limit ATM withdrawals to $25 per day for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance.  This federal legislation is modeled on a punitive welfare reform law enacted in Kansas earlier this year.

ATM withdrawal limits have severe implications for TANF recipients, diverting funds from struggling low-income families to banking institutions.  While Kansas charges recipients fees for every ATM transaction, a majority of states charge TANF recipients ATM fees after their first or second withdrawals in a given month.

Policies that limit access to TANF cash benefits are driven by stereotypes and misconceptions about low-income families.  Nationwide, TANF benefits are low; they are not enough to cover necessities such as housing, transportation, and clothing. For example, a single-parent household with two children in Kansas could receive a maximum of $429 a month in TANF benefits, but the fair market rent for a two-bedroom rental unit is $756 a month.  When a family runs out of money before the end of the month, it is not because of poor budgeting choice; there is simply not enough money to cover expenses. In a recent study, TANF recipients described the hardship caused by these fees: “I'm spending money I desperately need on fees instead of diapers, my kid's allergy medicine, toilet paper… It reduces the amount of my cash aid that I can use because most of the places I need the cash don't take EBT cards.” Moreover, recipients may incur late fees on their rent or other bills if they are unable to access funds at the start of the month.  In some remote areas, getting to an ATM may require long travel, increasing recipients’ expenses.

ATM withdrawal limits may violate federal requirements mandating that states provide “adequate access” to cash benefits and charge only “minimal fees” for withdrawals. If the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services determines that Kansas is non-compliant, the state could lose its $102 million TANF block grant. Governor Sam Brownback has signed an amendment to the law that allows the Kansas Department of Children and Families to raise or rescind the withdrawal limit.  Using this authority, the Department should act swiftly to eliminate ATM restrictions.

CLASP encourages policymakers at the state and federal levels to reject any punitive measure that reduces the value of TANF benefits for low-income families. States should ensure that recipients can access their benefits by:

  • Allowing and encouraging direct deposit of benefits;
  • Ensuring that recipients may use EBT cards for low-cost or fee-free ATM  withdrawals; and
  • Providing clear information on ATM fees and surcharges.

In addition, states can support the economic security of TANF recipients by removing asset limits from the program, promoting savings, and offering financial literacy services.

May 29, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

California to Repeal Rule Denying Cash Assistance to Thousands of Poor Children

UPDATE: CLASP is disappointed to report that the maximum family grant repeal was not included in the budget agreement announced by Gov. Jerry Brown on June 16, despite bicameral support in the state legislature. We will continue to partner with state and local advocates working to secure a stronger safety net for California's low-income families.

By Randi Hall

Within the upcoming weeks, Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign the California state budget which includes repeal of the maximum family grant (MFG) rule, which permanently denies cash assistance to babies born while a child is receiving CalWorks, California’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Both Subcommittees on Health and Human Services within the state Senate and Assembly recommended the MFG repeal in their respective versions of the budget. With over 27,000 California families sanctioned by the MFG rule in 2012, this repeal signals a  victory for policymakers and state advocates promoting the well-being of over 140,000 of California’s children negatively impacted by the policy.

With California’s repeal of the MFG rule, also known as a “family cap”, just 15 states now have a family cap policy in place under their TANF program; a number of states that once included the cap have since repealed the law, such as Minnesota in 2013. Family cap policies have been promoted with the purpose of deterring the growth of out-of-wedlock births and single-parent families receiving welfare benefits, based on the hypothesis that welfare recipients might intentionally conceive a child to receive an increased benefit, to become exempt from mandatory work requirements or activities, or to remain eligible for the program.  However, these policies have been wholly ineffective in reducing birth rates among poor mothers in TANF.

Instead what family caps have done is exacerbate poverty and its long-term effects on children’s health and well-being. Studies indicate that a family cap significantly increases deep poverty rates among single mothers and their children by at least 12 percent.  Without the MFG rule, most affected households in California would receive an additional $128 per month in assistance for a newborn child—hardly enough to meet an infant’s basic needs, but still an amount that would mitigate the financial burdens associated with deep poverty. In some circumstances, family cap policies can also result in a “zero-grant” situation which prevents a household that would be otherwise eligible to receive aid from doing so.

Repeal of the MFG has been a high priority for California anti-poverty advocates for years, and has drawn support from pro-life groups as well as those who advocate women’s reproductive choice.   California's repeal of the MFG rule has been championed by Senator Holly Mitchell over the last three years, and has received essential support by Senate Pro Tem De Leon and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins. CLASP strongly encourages Gov. Brown to accept the state budget with the MFG repeal in place, granting a much-needed reprieve for thousands of California's poor children and families.

Apr 20, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Child Care Reauthorization Promotes Access and Stability

By Elizabeth Lower-Basch

In November 2014, with broad bipartisan support, Congress reauthorized the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) for the first time since 1996.  In addition to protecting the health and safety of children in care and improving the quality of care, the new law contains provisions aimed at making it easier for low-income working families to access child care subsidies and to keep their children in stable care even in the face of unpredictable changes in employment

Among the key provisions are:

  • Once a child has been determined to be eligible for child care assistance under CCDBG, states must consider that child eligible for a minimum of 12 months regardless of temporary changes in a parent’s work, education or training activities, or family income, as long as income does not exceed the federal eligibility levels.
  • States may not terminate child care assistance based on permanent job loss or cessation of education and training without continuing assistance for at least three months to provide time for the parents to search for a new job.

The law thus strengthens CCDBG’s dual role as a major early childhood education program and a work support for low-income families.  Children can attend child care without instability in parental employment causing additional instability for child care, and parents who temporarily lose jobs or whose hours of employment fluctuate will not lose their child care assistance as a result.

Policymakers and advocates who work on any public benefit programs should be aware of these changes, both because child care is a critical work support for low-income families, and because these changes can set the standard for other programs where states set policy regarding redeterminations and continuous eligibility.  For example, the new law requires states to describe how their redetermination procedures and policies do not require working parents, and in particular parents receiving cash assistance under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), to disrupt employment in order to comply.  Such policies should be adopted in all public benefit programs.  Other agencies that have modernized their eligibility systems to make improvements such as maximizing use of existing data and allowing clients to self-report certain data may also be able to assist child care agencies in implementing the new provisions.

The reauthorization does not guarantee new funding to comply with its many new requirements, some of which will be costly to implement.  Spending on child care assistance through CCDBG and TANF is at an 11-year low. Already, only one in six children federally eligible for child care receive assistance, and unless states are able to increase funding for child care assistance, states may serve fewer families.

States have until October 1, 2016 to comply with these provisions. While details on how these requirements will be implemented are still forthcoming, now is the time for policymakers and advocates who work on both child care assistance and other programs for low-income families to set forth a vision for what a child care system that meets the needs of both parents and children would look like, and to build support for the resources needed to realize that vision.

 

For more information, see:

  • Implementing the Child Care and Development Block Grant Reauthorization: A Guide for StatesThis guide, written jointly by CLASP and the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), is designed to help policymak­ers and advocates gain a better understanding of what is entailed in fully implementing the law. It summarizes and analyzes key sections of the law, offering recommendations and cautions for states. It also includes a detailed chart compar­ing specific provisions of the new law with those of the previous law, an implementation timeline, a checklist indicating state compliance with select provisions of the law, a summary of the law, and state-by-state information on CCDBG funding and children served. The chapter
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