It’s hard for parents to focus on finding work when they’re worried about housing, utilities, food, and clothing.
MANY Washington children live in deep poverty as a direct result of decisions made by state lawmakers. Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) is a monthly cash-assistance grant administered by the state to support low-income Washington families.
It is the largest children’s program in the state, having served more than 67,000 children each month in 2014. The intent of the program is to temporarily support families who have fallen on tough times. Throughout the Great Recession, lawmakers made decisions that cut more than $600 million from the program, and forced more than 30,000 children and their parents to lose their benefits. These vulnerable families have paid the price of decisions made in Olympia.
We urge Washington lawmakers to restore the 15 percent cut to TANF made back in 2011. The TANF restoration would increase the monthly grant for a family of three from $478 to $562. This $84 is critical to a family’s ability to access safe, stable housing, as well as purchase needed clothes and hygiene items for their children.
Washington has the most regressive tax system in America. So as lawmakers contemplate a significant hike in the gas tax and other alternatives to raise revenue, they also need to look seriously at restoring the cuts made in harder economic times to reweave the safety net. It would be a minuscule fraction of 1 percent of the state budget that would make a huge difference for struggling families.
The current grant amount is nowhere near enough to help families cover basic necessities such as rent, clothing, utilities, school supplies and transportation costs for school and work.
The cost of basic needs — rent, heat, household goods and gas — has increased by 54 percent since 2001, while the value of the grant has decreased 34 percent.
Increasing the grant amount, as eight other states have done post-recession, could mean the difference between maintaining stable housing and becoming homeless. More than 5,600 families in our state receiving TANF are homeless — a heartbreaking record high number that starkly demonstrates that the minimal cash support we provide is not enough to help low-income families keep a roof over their heads.
Yet, TANF remains the primary source of support for children in poverty, even though only one of every seven poor children lives in families receiving such support.
Far from “encouraging dependence,” increasing the grant amount provides stability and helps parents focus on getting the education and training needed to find a job that can cover our rising cost of living.
Parents constantly worried about how to afford housing, utilities, food and clothing have a difficult time focusing on the steps needed to reach economic stability. An increase in our state’s temporary grant would enable families to focus on getting a job instead of worrying about the expenses of daily living, lack of access to a phone or consistent utilities. For a small investment in the state budget, we could make huge, lifesaving differences in the lives of our state’s most vulnerable children. Let’s give them a hand up and support a budget proposal that increases the TANF cash grant.