In Focus: Federal TANF Policy
Oct 4, 2016 | PERMALINK »
Stop-Gap Continuing Resolution Passes Congress
Last Wednesday night—with about 50 hours to go until the start of federal Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17) and members of Congress eager to return home to campaign—the U.S. House and Senate passed a “Continuing Resolution” (CR) that will keep the federal government funded until December 9, 2016.
After negotiations, Republicans and Democrats reached a compromise that, among other things, includes $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus and $500 million for natural disaster relief, notably in flood-stricken Louisiana. Congress also reached a bipartisan agreement to reconcile the difference between the House and Senate on the amount of federal aid for the urgently needed and long-overdue replacement of lead water pipe lines in Flint, Michigan, where many people still cannot safely drink, bathe, or cook using tap water. However the final legislation to help Flint was not included in the CR and will have to wait until Congress returns after the election. The CR also temporarily continues mandatory programs that needed extensions, such as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
While this stop-gap measure will keep the government running until after the general election, the CR leaves considerable unfinished business because it fails fundamentally to meet the resource needs of programs that support low-income families. By temporarily continuing the inadequate funding levels in the FY16 budget for all annually appropriated federal programs, Congress did very little to address the needs of the 13.5 percent of Americans who live in poverty, according to the latest Census report on poverty.
As the nation looks ahead to a new president and Congressional leaders plan for 2017 and beyond, policymakers must fully fund effective investments in education, employment, young children, and anti-poverty strategies that ensure all benefit from the economic recovery. After the election, Congress will enter a “lame duck session” in which some members who will not be returning in January may feel unencumbered by future elections. The consequences are grim if Congress fails in the lame duck to sharply raise funding levels as it deliberates over the FY17 budget. For example:
- Holding child care funding at its current levels means that fewer children will receive the stable and healthy child care they need to thrive and their parents need to succeed on the job. Recent data show that participation in child care funded through the Child Care and Development Block Grant program has fallen to a 16-year low, with just 1.4 million children being served in 2014, and spending at an 11-year low as of 2013.
- Fewer workers will receive the skills training and postsecondary credentials they need to move toward better jobs, since this year’s funding level for adult education is more than 6 percent below the FY 2017 amounts authorized in 2014’s bipartisan reauthorization of the federal workforce development law. Moreover, current funding for key adult and youth employment and training is more than 3 percent lower than levels authorized for next year by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). This would continue a decline in funding for these programs of more than 30 percent in real terms over the past 15 years.
- Communities of color have been hit especially hard by federal disinvestment in key programs such as child care, workforce training, and Head Start. Youth of color, particularly out of school youth, simply don’t have the resources they need to succeed, and young children cannot get the start they need and deserve without help. With children of color soon to be half of all children—and already half of children under five—their success matters deeply to America’s future.
We can drive down the damaging prevalence of poverty and economic insecurity if the next president and Congressional leaders make a strong commitment to addressing poverty. Such a commitment should start with the enactment of an FY2017 budget that expands and invests in the crucial education, child care, safety net, and workforce development programs that help people get and keep a job, stabilize families, and promote success. In addition, the commitment must focus resources and attention on those who face the most barriers—children, youth, and families of color, immigrant families, and those whose opportunities are limited by pervasive poverty in their neighborhoods and communities.
CLASP urges Congress to pass a 2017 spending bill with additional resources to support low-income families as they seek economic security.
Sep 30, 2016 | PERMALINK »
OFA Brief Incorporates CLASP’s Recommendations for TANF Work-Study Programs
By Jessica Gehr
Last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Family Assistance (OFA) published a brief outlining how Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) agencies can support postsecondary completion for TANF recipients. OFA recommends using TANF dollars to fund work-study programs, an approach CLASP has supported for years.
TANF benefits are time limited and relatively small. Consequently, parents can only escape poverty and become economically secure by obtaining stable employment with higher-than-minimum wages. Postsecondary credentials are essential to securing these jobs in today’s economy. Unfortunately, many states fail to provide TANF recipients access to postsecondary education or training opportunities because of TANF’s work participation rate (WPR) requirements, which incentivizes states to place recipients in low-wage, low-skilled jobs in order to meet federal quotas.
To address these challenges, OFA recommends engaging TANF recipients in work-study programs, allowing students to earn money at part-time jobs while they participate in education or training that leads to economic stability. This approach also eases the burden on state TANF agencies; under federal guidelines, work-study can be counted as “core” activities toward the WPR. Taken alone without a work component, TANF recipients’ postsecondary education can only be counted toward work requirements for 12 months over their lifetime.
Federal Work-Study (FWS) provides part-time employment to students who demonstrate financial need; these jobs are typically on campus and designed to accommodate student schedules. However, these funds are limited, and schools typically provide just 10-15 hours per week (not enough to meet the federal WPR). The OFA brief highlights several states, including Kentucky, California, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania, that use TANF funds to provide additional work-study opportunities for TANF participants.
Strategies to create and enhance work-study programs for TANF participants include:
- Combining work-study with education and training to meet federal work participation requirements;
- Providing on-campus support staff for work-study participants;
- Ensuring work-study income does not affect TANF eligibility;
- Supporting work-study positions with fair wages in relevant experience areas; and
- Targeting campuses with the greatest institutional need.
States should encourage postsecondary completion for TANF-eligible parents by funding work-study programs. This will help families achieve economic stability and mobility while allowing state agencies to count postsecondary education activities toward the WPR. CLASP also supports innovations that improve students’ access to income support programs, promoting college completion and future self-sufficiency.
Sep 13, 2016 | PERMALINK »
Strong Reduction in Poverty, Improvement in Health Insurance, But More to Do for Next Generation’s Families
View our Infographics about the 2015 Poverty Data.
Watch Olivia Golden's appearance on C-SPAN's Washington Journal to discuss the data.
The Census Bureau’s annual report on poverty, income, and health coverage shows major economic improvement on a number of indicators, including a drop in poverty from 14.8 percent of Americans in 2014 to 13.5 percent in 2015. The health coverage report shows the smallest share of Americans ever to be uninsured, with just 9.1 percent (29 million) of people without insurance in 2015, down by about 4 million people from 2014. Virtually all groups of Americans, including children, shared in the poverty reduction, with about one million fewer children living in poverty and the child poverty rate improving from 21.1 percent in 2014 to 19.7 percent in 2015.
Yet disparities in economic security, while improved on some measures, remain substantial. America’s children and young adults—our next generation of workers and citizens—still have the highest poverty rates, and children and young adults of color, the soon-to-be majority of that rising generation, experience sharply elevated poverty even within that group. Without additional policy interventions, high levels of poverty among these children and their families risk not only their future success in education and the workforce but also the nation’s success.
As the country prepares for a new president and Congressional leaders make plans for 2017, CLASP believes it is important to highlight the report’s good news about the effectiveness of several major national programs. Notably the report includes data quantifying the continued success of the Affordable Care Act, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), among others, in helping large numbers of Americans. For example, the Census Bureau’s special calculations to estimate the effects of the EITC and SNAP on poverty (necessary because these programs are not included in the regular poverty measure) finds that in 2015, the EITC and other refundable tax credits raised 9.2 million people out of poverty and SNAP raised 4.6 million.
But the data also show continuing disparities. America’s next generation of children and young adults continue to experience poverty at very high rates—of particular concern because research shows the lifelong consequences of poverty in childhood. Even with the 2015 improvement, the child poverty rate remained at one in five children, still above the rate before the Great Recession. For young adults (ages 18-24), the 19 percent poverty rate was virtually unchanged from 19.6 percent in 2014. Despite their particular vulnerability, young children (under age 5) continued to have the highest poverty rates among children (21.4 percent or 4.2 million children). More than four in ten children (and nearly half of young children) live in low-income families with incomes less than twice the federal poverty line—meaning that a typical childhood experience is living in or near poverty in a family that struggles to make ends meet.
Parents in these poor and near-poor families are working: in 2015, about 70 percent of poor children and 84 percent of low-income children lived with at least one worker. Low wages and inadequate hours, not the failure to work, are the barriers holding them back from economic stability. For example, one quarter of workers who report working variable hours and almost half of part-time workers who would like to be working full-time are low-income. In fact, original CLASP analysis of the Census Bureau survey finds that about one quarter of adults under age 30 who are parents live in poverty—testimony to policy and labor market failures that make it extremely hard for many families to balance raising children with economic security on the job.
Today, children of color are already a majority among the youngest children and will become a majority of all children in the next few years. Yet despite some improvement in the disparity in 2015, children and young adults of color are far more likely to be poor than White children. About one third of Black children and about three in ten Hispanic children live in poverty, despite high levels of work effort in their households—with two-thirds of poor Black children and three-quarters of poor Hispanic children living with a working adult family member. The poverty rate for White non-Hispanic children remained largely unchanged in 2015, at 12.1 percent.
Today’s numbers shine a spotlight on the critical difference that public policy can make, particularly the historic improvements in insurance coverage due to the Affordable Care Act. To build on policy successes to date, five additional bold steps would go a long way toward turning around child and family poverty, tearing down systemic barriers that affect families of color, and enabling children and youth now living in poor families to achieve an economically secure future:
- Affordable and high-quality child care for all low-income families, so parents can work and children can thrive. Current investments reach only a fraction of eligible families.
- A substantial jobs agenda, providing opportunities for low-income workers to earn a living wage and gain skills on the job, and including a substantial federal investment for subsidized summer and year-round employment for youth and young adults.
- Financial access to postsecondary education for all low-income students, including both youth and adults, so they can get the credentials they need to succeed at work—and also make ends meet for themselves and their families.
- Access for all workers (including low-income workers) to paid family and medical leave, earned sick days, and fair schedules, so parents don’t have to trade off their child’s health and wellbeing to succeed on the job.
- Improvements to the safety net that fill gaps and build on the proven success of the EITC and other programs, such as by extending help through the EITC to low-wage adults without dependents and young adults (including non-custodial parents and others who play a crucial role in children’s lives) and ensuring that young children everywhere in the country have at least a minimum income floor.
CLASP will be releasing a policy brief next week to provide more in-depth analysis of the Census data, along with further details on our policy recommendations for helping those living in poverty and with low incomes gain economic security.