By Israel Bayer, Staff Writer
For months, state lawmakers have been mulling over drastic budget cuts to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program that would not only cut the program by about 50 percent in revenue, it would also create the shortest time limit for assistance in the nation.
TANF specifically serves families with children with incomes below the federal poverty level. The maximum a family can receive is $506 a month for a family with four or more children, with a lifetime eligibility limit set at 60 months, in line with federal policy.
The reduction under Gov. John Kitzhaber’s original budget plan would reduce support to 18 months, the shortest in any state in the country.
The most recent news out of Salem is bittersweet. The latest revenue forecast earlier this month added about $100 million for the human service budget.
“In recognition of the program’s impact on Oregon’s families, the proposed 18-month time limit cut was put at the top of the list for “add backs” by the Human Services Subcommittee of Ways and Means,” says State Representative Tina Kotek. “Nothing is final until the budget is passed, but Ways and Means members have understood that this cut will have catastrophic impacts to families.
Kotek said she was confident the state will not resort to the 18-month limit.
“We have worked to restore the 18-month time limit, but there are other cuts still being made to the TANF program,” Kotek said. “Job Opportunity and Basic Skills (JOBS) services for TANF clients are being cut by $60 million, eliminating opportunities for people who face significant barriers to entering the workforce.”
JOBS helps clients gain skills through education, training, work experience and networking with other parents who are facing the same challenges.
“The elimination of these services will remove concrete services like skill development, work experience opportunities, and GED classes, as well as increasing isolation among parents who lack community supports,” says Kotek.
Nearly 20 percent of Oregon’s children live in poverty. Oregon’s TANF program currently provides cash assistance to 30,108 families (including 54,000 children) 8,353 of whom live in Multnomah County. Without the state benefits, these families are expected to more heavily rely on already stressed county programs.