People’s generosity this time of year is a lifeline for many families in our region, a gift that provides access to meals for their kids or a roof over their heads. But if we truly dream of a future with more kids and families out of the cold, Washington state must also address the root causes of poverty and homelessness and bolster the programs that provide a lifeline when a family needs one.
At Byrd Barr Place in Seattle, we see families every day at that moment when support to weather a storm is the difference between stability and homelessness, like Bryttni, a single mom with two young children who reached out for a lifeline at our food bank. We signed Bryttni up for weekly home deliveries of food, and we also discovered she was on the verge of being evicted due to back rent. She is not new to poverty, but with cuts to basic social services in recent years, she needs the services we provide more frequently.
More people like Bryttni are facing the impacts of harmful cuts to anti-poverty programs like Washington’s WorkFirst/Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. WorkFirst/TANF is supposed to protect families when they face hardships like job loss, illness, or a tragedy by helping them temporarily meet basic needs like paying rent and buying diapers.
In the past, more families with children had access to this important lifeline when they were facing deep poverty and homelessness. But after a decade of harmful cuts, that lifeline no longer exists for or can no longer be grasped by tens of thousands of Washington families. Time restrictions and limitations that state lawmakers have implemented to WorkFirst/TANF have driven many of our families deeper into poverty and hardship.
Sometimes for resilient people like Bryttni, grasping that lifeline firmly is another challenge, and cuts like time limits make it even harder.
What’s more, the families who have been hurt by these cuts are disproportionately Black and American Indian and indigenous families. Since 2015, nearly one in three people who were cut off WorkFirst/TANF because of time limits were Black, despite the fact that Black people made up just 19% of recipients overall.
Black and American Indian and indigenous families in our region already face an array of barriers to economic well-being. The racist legacy of enslavement, segregation, redlining and countless exclusionary policies has kept people of color from having access to wealth and opportunity. In addition, Black, American Indian and indigenous, and other families of color still face structural barriers in the form of employment discrimination, inequities in our educational systems and more. Cuts to programs like WorkFirst/TANF harm the next generation and also threaten all our communities.
Addressing poverty means sharing the responsibility that none of our neighbors should go without food, without clothing, and without a safe place to come out of the cold — especially families with young children.
As state lawmakers get back to work in Olympia, they must ensure that WorkFirst/TANF support is actually available to all people — whether they’re Black, brown or white. Undoing punitive cuts and harsh restrictions and reinvesting in WorkFirst/TANF will help families with children stabilize, find work and get access to job training and education.
WorkFirst/TANF is a crucial lifeline for families and children experiencing poverty; it helps them stay housed, warm and fed when they most need it, as well as providing them with opportunities to move beyond poverty to achieve self-sufficiency.