Threatened cut to 18-month lifetime limit dies in House and Senate budget committee
By Amanda Waldroupe, Staff Writer
The 60-month time limit to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program will not be cut by the Oregon Legislature, as many advocates for low-income and impoverished families feared. The proposal on the table was to slash the lifetime time limit to 18 months, giving Oregonians the lowest time limit in the nation.
The Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Services, which writes the budgets for the state’s human services programs, approved TANF’s budget and program changes during committee meetings this week, including funding to preserve the 60-month time limit, as well as some programs and services. The vote caps off months of campaigning by people in poverty and their advocates to prevent people from losing their housing and children as a result of the cuts.
“We’re happy,” said Patti Whitney-Wise, the executive director of the Oregon Hunger Relief Task Force and the advocate leading the charge to protect TANF from budget cuts. “We’re pleased that some of the biggest holes were (filled).”
$12.6 million was added back to the TANF program to preserve the 60-month time limit that families can receive the program’s monthly cash grant. That grant tops out at $506 per month for a family of four or more.
Gov. John Kitzhaber’s recommended budget called for reducing TANF’s budget by $67 million and reducing the time limit to 18 months, which would have affected 7,000 Oregon families.
“That was extremely bad public policy,” says House Representative Tina Kotek (D-Portland), who championed TANF’s preservation.
Following the governor’s budget plans to dramatically reduce TANF, advocates immediately decried the recommendation, saying it would cause impoverished, unemployed and vulnerable families with dependent children to become homeless.
They quickly formed an alliance and strenuously lobbied legislators to restore the program’s funding. “We did quite a bit of running around,” Whitney-Wise says.
$2 million was restored to TANF’s Family Supports and Connections program, which helps parents acquire better parenting and life skills, and $10 million was restored to serve clients of the Jobs Opportunity and Basic Skills (JOBS) program who are considered “Tier II” clients, people who are not quite ready to enter the workforce.
May’s revenue forecast projected that Oregon would have an additional $129 million in its general fund for the 2011-2013 biennium. $105 million was used to reduce cuts to human services programs, including TANF. “There were a lot of severe cuts,” Whitney-Wise says.
$26 million was also taken from the Department of Human Services’ Employment Related Day Care program by reducing the number of caseloads in the program from 11,000 to 9,000. That too is an unfortunate cut, Whitney-Wise says, but Governor Kitzhaber is said to be looking for additional funding for the program.
The changes to TANF will be in effect for the upcoming biennium, July 2011 to July 2013.
There are program and services that will be eliminated for the biennium: a benefit for people applying to receive Social Security Disability insurance is being eliminated, as is the post-TANF payment of $50 per month for families who left the TANF program as a result of finding work.
Support services to people participating in the JOBS program are also being severely cut, and people who are not considered immediately able to enter the work force will no longer be able to access support services such as child care, mental health treatment, parenting and life skills training, etc.
“All the preventive and tailored programs to meet families at their individual needs won’t be there,” Kotek says. “It’s more of a one-size-fits-all program.”
“The impacts on families will be huge,” she says, calling the support programs essential to making TANF work. “There are families in financial crisis. And there are families in financial, emotional and other crises,” Kotek says.
Whitney-Wise says the lack of support services will profoundly effect parents’ abilities to not only be good parents to their children, but also to reduce the barriers stopping them from entering the workforce.
“They’re not going to get the services to get rid of those barriers,” Whitney Wise says.
Whitney-Wise says the changes make TANF a “very stripped down program” and she fears that people will stay on TANF longer.
“The biggest concern we have is that the less services people get, they risk losing their children,” to the foster care system, she says.
TANF is a program reserved for the poorest of Oregon’s poor. It provides a cash benefit for individuals or couples with dependent children to help cover their basic needs while they participate in job training programs, educational programs, and other programs to help them re-enter the work force and become self-sufficient. TANF clients stay in the program for an average of 24 months.
The number of two-parent families in TANF has increased dramatically since the start of the recession, at 330 percent since 2007. Overall demand has increased by 57.3 percent.
The TANF budget’s next step is to the full Joint Ways and Means Committee before it can go to the House and Senate floors for a vote. “The TANF budget is still very fragile,” Kotek warns.
This coming week, a notice from the Department of Human Services about changes to the the Jobs Opportunity and Basic Skills (JOBS) program will be sent to families on TANF detailing the cuts becoming effective on June 30.
“It will tell them what they’re not getting,” Kotek says. “It will be very isolating for a lot of families.”