With a unanimous vote, Multnomah County Commissioners put itself on the record opposing plans in Salem to drastically cut the state’s family and employment support for the poorest Oregonians.
State lawmakers are considering 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.
Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury
“These cuts to TANF are not going to solve the budget problems in Salem, but it will have real and harmful effects on the children in our community,” said County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury, who brought forward the resolution. “This issue is so deeply tied to the work that we do here in Multnomah County. Many of our programs, including our housing programs, work only because of the connection that we have with the state TANF dollars. And if this program is cut, these families will be at risk of hunger, homelessness and child welfare placements. All issues that directly affect the work that we do here.”
TANF specifically serves families with children with incomes less than 40 of the federal poverty level, or $7,300 per year for a family of three. 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 plan would reduce that to 18 months, the shortest known in any state in the country.
Nearly 20 percent of Oregon’s children live in poverty, the resolution notes. 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.
Kafoury, who along with Commissioner Judy Shiprack have served in the State Legislature, said it was not an easy decision to bring this resolution forward. She said she understands the difficulty in having to cut budgets, at the state and county levels, but that these cuts “go beyond the pale.”
Likewise, County Chair Jeff Cogen said he wouldn’t normally criticize the budget process, but that “this is such an egregious mistake that I think it’s entirely appropriate for us to do so especially because the impact is so deep in Multnomah County,” Cogen said. “Given the depth of these cuts and the pain that it will cause on the most vulnerable members of our community, people who are barely hanging on, it just seems like the wrong call.”
Since 2007, TANF’s caseload has increased nearly 60 percent – from 18,600 families to more than 30,000 today. The number of two-parent families on TANF increased 330 percent in the past two years. Approximately 95 percent of all families receiving TANF have no earnings. Meanwhile, staffing at TANF has remained the same and is now considered 40 percent below capacity by the state Department of Human Services.
The budget for TANF now working its way through the committee process also would cut the employment and skills training component of TANF, or JOBS, and would cut employment-related childcare.
State Rep. Tina Kotek, who represents Portland’s North and Northeast neighborhoods, has proposed reauthorizing funds to keep TANF functioning, along with the employment component, with less severe cuts, including setting the eligibility limit at 48 months.
Kafoury credited coverage in the media, including Street Roots, for keeping this issue before the public, and through which “we’ve been trying to mobilize citizens to let the governor and the Legislature know that these cuts are not OK.”
Kafoury urged everyone at the meeting to contact their lawmakers and the governor to preserve the TANF program.
“Don’t take it for granted that because these cuts are so awful they’re not going to go through. There’s a real chance that they will be taken.”
Lend your voice to the call to Salem to preserve the safety net for Oregon’s poorest families by preserving the basic income and employment programs through TANF.