Budget Cuts Hurt Families’ Ability to Get Back to Work
Investments that help Washingtonians find work and weather difficult financial times were cut far more deeply than any other public priority during the 2012 Legislative Session. Although these economic security investments represent the smallest share of the entire state budget (3.3 percent), they account for nearly half of all reductions to public services.
The largest single cut was $127 million from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), which provides struggling families with child care support, job training, and help finding a job.
Some said that this cut was justified because the number of people accessing the program has declined, leaving unspent funds carried over from the previous year. But don’t be fooled— the needs of families have not decreased. In fact, the reason fewer families are receiving assistance is because restrictions to eligibility have been made over the past few years, forcing struggling families out of the program. For example:
- Over 25,000 parents and children have lost services due to implementation of a 60-month time limit;
- Over 8,000 fewer families received child care assistance at the close of 2011, compared to 2009, due to reduced eligibility;
- Over 2,000 parents and children have lost assistance due to a reduction in the maximum amount of income a family can earn and still be eligible for the program;
- Approximately 1,700 children who are cared for by relatives, live in immigrant families, have a disability or are being cared for by a legal guardian have been terminated from services due to new income restrictions. (1)
The Legislature could have chosen to reinvest the unspent funding to help families hardest hit by the recession, and improve the overall economy by getting people back to work. Instead, the bulk of the funds were used to balance the budget.
Some good news: a small portion of funding was used to readjust eligibility for child care. Eligibility was increased from 175 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) ($3,361/month for a family of four) to 200 percent FPL ($3,842/month); the state restored the maximum income assistance amount for larger families, and enacted other administrative changes that lessen barriers for families. However, this is just a tiny drop in the bucket of what’s needed to turn the economy around, get families back on their feet, and secure our future prosperity.
1. Caseload data from DSHS: http://www.leg.wa.gov/JointCommittees/LEWOTF/Documents/Apr232012/LegPictures.pdf and OFM forecasting division: http://www.workfirst.wa.gov/performance/measures/WorkFirstChartsJan2012.pdf