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Showing blog entries tagged as: Poverty


Brief: Poverty reduction programs support families to work and should be strengthened

Posted by Julie Watts at Aug 01, 2018 03:50 PM |

Even with a strong economy and low unemployment rates, many households in Washington struggle to meet basic needs. Fortunately, poverty reduction programs remove obstacles that make it harder for families to get and keep jobs and help them grow their incomes over time. 

Our new policy brief, “Supporting Parents to Work,” shows how programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) support families to work. It also identifies certain situations in which families may face benefit “cliffs,” or a sudden loss of support that hurts their financial bottom line. State lawmakers need to take steps to strengthen some benefits so families can better take advantage of opportunities to increase their incomes. 

The good news is it pays to work when participating in anti-poverty programs. Programs like SNAP, TANF, Apple Health and Affordable Care Act health insurance subsidies, and federal housing assistance are all designed to allow families to take advantage of wage and income growth (see chart below). That helps a family’s financial bottom line when they work more hours or get a raise or promotion.

(Click on image to enlarge)

public benefits support work

 

However, families with children who receive child care subsidies through Working Connections Child Care (WCCC), do face a benefit cliff when their wages go up (see chart below). A benefit cliff is a sudden loss in benefits that results in a net loss in income. This can set families back substantially when they need to buy child care at market rates. 

 (Click on image to enlarge.)

benefit cliff in Working Connections Child Care

 

There are also some cases in which families may face a benefit cliff even when they do not see an increase in earnings. This can happen when families hit time limits or face sanctions in Washington’s TANF, or WorkFirst, program. This particular cliff is the result of a series of legislative and executive policies enacted over the past 12 years that cut off TANF benefits for the entire family when a parent failed to meet work requirements and that restricted time limit extensions. (For more information see our policy brief, “Reinvest in WorkFirst.”)

Every family should be able to meet their basic needs so that they can work, get ahead, and help their children reach their full potential. Washington lawmakers must take commonsense steps to strengthen poverty reduction programs. For WCCC, they should increase the period of time a family can participate in the “phase down” period from three months to 12 months. They should also increase program eligibility from 200 percent of the federal poverty line (or $3,462 for a family of three) up to 325 percent of poverty (or $5,625 for a family of three). For WorkFirst, lawmakers should provide extensions to program time limits for families who are “playing by the rules” and meeting program requirements, but aren’t making enough to be able to move off the program. They should also make it easier for families to comply with work requirements. Taking these kinds of steps will create better opportunities for all families to thrive.

Read the full brief, “Supporting Parents to Work: How poverty reduction programs in Washington support employment and need to be strengthened.” 

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Washington state’s members of Congress should reject SNAP cuts in the Farm Bill

Posted by April Dickinson at Apr 27, 2018 05:30 PM |
Filed under: Federal Issues, Poverty
By Hana Jang, Narver policy fellow

Now that Republicans in Congress have released the details of their partisan Farm Bill, it is clear that the bill’s proposals for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are as harmful as we feared. This bill would take our communities in the wrong direction when it comes to the well-being of our residents. Nearly 1 million Washingtonians use SNAP to feed their families, and this bill would result in many seeing their benefits reduced or cut altogether, putting them at risk of being hungry or falling into poverty. The Farm Bill must be rejected by Washington state’s members of Congress.


In Washington state, the proposed changes to SNAP would:

  • Create hardship for thousands of people throughout Washington state as a result of unnecessary new work requirements. Most people who participate in SNAP and can work, already do. But proposals in the bill would require almost all adult participants not receiving disability benefits – including people between the ages of 50 and 59 and parents with children over the age of 6 – to prove every month that they are working or attending an employment program at least 20 hours a week or that they are exempt from the requirement. This additional administrative process could mean that participants who are exempt or are meeting the requirement could have their benefits at risk if there is a slip-up in their monthly tracking. And people subject to the work requirement who cannot meet the minimum hours prescribed will lose their access to SNAP. Placing additional barriers to access to food assistance could mean people have to go without food.
  • Impose penalties on people who can’t meet the new requirements, including people who are working in jobs with insecure hours. The bill contains a provision that would penalize workers who already face hardship due to low wages or unpredictable schedules. Under this provision, failure to meet the minimum number of required monthly work hours just once would kick a SNAP participant off the program for 12 months. And a second failure would result in them losing benefits for 36 months. They could only regain benefits if they found a job that provided enough hours or if their circumstances change in a way that exempt them from this requirement. In other words, people who have fluctuating work schedules, which can already lead to financial insecurity, could be subject to greater financial hardship because of a schedule dictated by their employer.
  • Misuse tax dollars that should be strengthening our communities. Under the previous 2014 Farm Bill, 10 states (including Washington state) agreed to pilot new and innovative SNAP work and job-training programs to help identify effective ways to help SNAP participants obtain meaningful work that leads to success. The pilot programs are due to release their results in the next few years. Yet the current Farm Bill is proposing major changes to SNAP’s job training and education programs without waiting for the critical data and research that shows how the pilot programs are working. It would ultimately invest significant taxpayer dollars toward creating a new system to track SNAP participants’ work hours and an underfunded expansion of untested job training and education programs, rather than providing needed food assistance to families in our communities.

SNAP is already one of our nation’s most powerful and effective poverty- and hunger-reduction programs. It helps feed over 40 million Americans and keeps eight million out of poverty. Our U.S. representatives from Washington state must reject these proposals that would harm people who are working to make ends meet. They must protect SNAP’s legacy of trying to ensure everyone in our country can put food on the table.

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Threats to food assistance in Farm Bill could harm thousands of Washington households

Posted by April Dickinson at Apr 05, 2018 07:15 PM |
Filed under: Federal Issues, Poverty

By Misha Werschkul, executive director, and Hana Jang, Narver fellow

When Congress returns from spring recess on April 9, they will begin considering a Farm Bill that could undermine nearly four decades of progress in addressing hunger by including harmful cuts or changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka SNAP, and formerly known as food stamps), our nation’s largest and most effective anti-hunger program.

SNAP, which provides food assistance for one in every eight Washingtonians, helps people get back on their feet while boosting health, nutrition, and children’s learning. SNAP reaches over 900,000 Washington residents, including: families with children, teachers, support staff, cashiers, retail staff, home health aides, and many others. Many SNAP participants work, but often have jobs that offer low-wages or not enough hours to make ends meet. Nationally, SNAP keeps more than 8 million people out of poverty – including nearly four million children. And SNAP provides more than $1.3 billion in federal resources annually to help boost Washington’s economy.

SNAP helps 1 in 8 Washingtonians

As Congress begins to debate the Farm Bill, Washingtonians should watch for and reject:

1.    Harmful cuts to SNAP funding. SNAP is an incredibly effective anti-hunger program. Even with a modest average benefit of just $1.33 per person per meal, SNAP has a vital impact in our state, helping hundreds of thousands of our residents put food on the table. Cuts and harmful changes to SNAP that take away people's food have no place in the Farm Bill.

2.    Elimination of state flexibility. Washington state currently uses what’s known as “categorical eligibility” to help SNAP benefits phase out more slowly as a worker’s income increases. Taking away this option would punish people who work more hours or get a better-paying job with the goal of stabilizing their lives before moving away from SNAP.

3.    Increased paperwork and administrative requirements. One proposal under consideration is to undo the connection between Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and SNAP, also known as “Heat and Eat,” which allows Washington and other states to streamline administration of food assistance with utility benefit programs. This would result in costly and unnecessary new paperwork and administrative requirements for families and states.

4.    New, untested work requirements. The proposed Farm Bill may include harsh new work requirements and penalties that would eliminate SNAP as a core support for people who are unemployed or experience irregular work schedules. Research suggests that these types of proposals do little to promote work while pushing more people into deep poverty.

Washington’s members of Congress have historically shared a bipartisan commitment to SNAP as an effective way to help feed struggling Washingtonians and get them back on their feet. Our representatives in Congress must reject cuts to food assistance and focus on policies that help create jobs and boost wages instead of punishing people who are already facing economic hardship.

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Lawmakers must reinvest in WorkFirst to restore the promise of basic support to families facing poverty

Posted by Melinda Young-Flynn at Jan 30, 2018 04:15 PM |
Filed under: Poverty, Economic Security
By Julie Watts, deputy director
 
We all want to live in a state where, when people fall on hard times, they don’t go without the basics – food, shelter, and necessities of daily life that allow them to look for jobs and get back on their feet. WorkFirst, Washington state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, is the main way our state protects children and families from the trauma and debilitating effects of poverty.
 
WorkFirst not only provides basic assistance to families in crisis, but it also is supposed to ensure they can move out of poverty through job training, child care, mental health, and support services.(1)

However the program is headed in the wrong direction. As a result of harmful policy changes and budget cuts over the last decade, the program is serving a smaller portion of families in poverty than it was a decade ago. Lawmakers must make investments in WorkFirst to reach more families living in poverty and provide families with more help.

Today, WorkFirst helps only 25 families with children for every 100 living in poverty, down from 50 families for every 100 in 2008. (See graphic below.) The sharp, alarming decline in the number of families being helped by WorkFirst has been driven by dramatic cuts in funding. Since 2008, lawmakers have cut state funding for the program by 47 percent (adjusted for inflation), or $179.6 million, and used those funds to plug holes in other parts of the state budget.

Click on image to enlarge.

 WorkFirst

Further, beginning in 2010, the governor and the state legislature made changes to the program that made it harder for families who were playing by the rules and meeting program requirements to get extensions to time limits. The changes also punished whole families (including children) when a parent failed to meet program requirements and gave families less time to come into compliance before they are cut off the program. Policymakers also cut the amount of cash assistance families could receive even as the cost of living was rising.

These decisions had a far more damaging impact than anyone anticipated. They sent the caseload into a free fall that continues today.

State lawmakers should make sure any new savings in the WorkFirst program that result from fewer families being served are reinvested to serve more families this legislative session. They must make sure that when families fall on hard times in Washington, they don’t go without the basics.

For more detailed recommendations on how to improve WorkFirst, see our policy brief, "Reinvest in WorkFirst: How we can restore the promise of basic support to Washington families facing poverty." 

[1] In addition, a portion of the state’s WorkFirst caseload are “child-only” cases – children who are living with a family member other than their parents or children who are living with parents who are not eligible for TANF.

 

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New report: An inclusive economy is essential for all Washingtonians, our economy, and the future progress of our state

Washington is poised for great economic progress. By many measures, a better future for all people in our state is within our grasp. And yet, economic growth is not reaching all Washingtonians. There are persistent and deep disparities based on race, ethnicity, nativity, class, and geography across every measure of economic progress. Progress is meaningful only if it’s felt by everyone and prosperity is shared by all Washingtonians. To create real progress, our state must have an inclusive economy in which everyone, especially people with low incomes and people of color, can participate in growth and benefit from it. Those are the primary findings of our “Building an Inclusive Economy” report (the first in our Progress in Washington 2018 series of reports).

Inclusive Economy carouselShared economic prosperity is one of the best measures of how our state and country are progressing, but economic growth has not been broadly shared in our state. Gains in income have been concentrated at the top while wages for low- and middle-income people have stagnated or declined. This rise in inequality is the result of many state and federal policy and budget decisions by legislators that have negatively impacted certain Washington state residents. Decades of regressive taxation, deregulation, privatization, cuts to the safety net, as well as the decline of collective bargaining have all played a role in rising inequality.

Washington state’s own upside-down tax code has contributed to the problem. Hardworking families in our state pay as much as seven times more than the wealthiest pay while corporations and the ultra-wealthy benefit from unnecessary tax breaks, making it hard for our state to have the revenue it needs to invest in the foundations that serve us all, such as great schools, quality health care, and other public priorities that make Washington a great place to live. Policymakers must fix our broken tax code. Doing so will allow our state budget to have sustainable sources of revenue to build an inclusive economy and to invest equitably in our communities in the short and long term.

Prosperity should be within reach of all Washingtonians
Making sure all Washingtonians have access to opportunity and resources is essential to ensuring prosperity is within reach of all residents. Across many indicators of economic progress, the data show that people with low incomes and people of color are starting off on unequal footing and are facing greater barriers in large part because of the impact of harmful historical housing, economic development, and financial policies. As Washington grows more racially and ethnically diverse, the future well-being of all of us hinges upon erasing the deep and pervasive racial imbalances that exist across these measures. By 2050, our state population will be majority people of color. Washington state’s young people are already at the forefront of this demographic transformation. Forty-three percent of children are kids of color.

 [Click on graphic to enlarge.]

WA_Demog_1980to2050

In an inclusive economy, all Washingtonians – regardless of race, ethnicity, nativity, income, or community of residence – would be able to access quality jobs and have financial security and stability. Our education system would be preparing students and workers for good jobs and jobs of the future. And all Washingtonians would be able to live healthy lives in vibrant communities so they can better connect to and participate in the economy. However, data trends highlighted in our report indicate economic prosperity is out or reach for many residents in three key areas – economic security; education and job readiness; and healthy people and communities. For example:

  • Economic security: Although economic growth holds the promise of prosperity for working people across the state, rising employment has not reached all communities. While unemployment in Washington state has overall dipped to 4.5 percent, for many communities of color – such as Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Blacks – unemployment rates remain at or near 10 percent. There are geographic differences as well: the unemployment rate has remained high in many rural counties. In Ferry County, the unemployment rate is the highest in the state at 9.1 percent, and in Pacific and Wahkiakum counties, unemployment remains at just above 6 percent.
  • Education and job readiness: While the state’s Department of Early Learning’s goal is for 90 percent of kids to start kindergarten with the skills they need to succeed, currently only 47 percent of kindergartners are meeting that threshold, and there are significant differences by income and race. Only 33 percent of kids with low incomes, 27 percent of Pacific Islander kids, 30 percent of Latino kids, and 32 percent of American Indian kids were kindergarten ready in 2016.
  • Healthy people and communities: In Washington state, many low-income communities, communities of color, and rural communities experience worse health outcomes when it comes to chronic diseases, life expectancy, obesity, and more. Thirteen percent of households in Washington struggle with food insecurity – the inability to have three meals on the table every day as a result of lack of resources. Among 10th graders, Pacific Islander, Latino, and Black students have the highest likelihood of living in families that had to reduce meal sizes or skip meals compared to overall state average.

 [Click on graphic to enlarge.]

Food_Insecurity_10th_graders

Note about data: Disaggregated data is presented to provide a preliminary understanding of disparities by race, ethnicity, and nativity. On its own, the data throughout the report tells a limited story about the population it represents. We encourage users of this data to engage with communities of color to develop a more accurate and meaningful understanding than the data allows.

These and other trends highlighted in the report point to the fact that much work remains to be done for policymakers and all of us to advance shared prosperity and progress for generations to come. Our state budget and tax code are powerful tools to make this happen and to build an inclusive economy. In the upcoming 2018 legislative session and beyond, policymakers can choose to advance shared prosperity by making sure our state budget and policies increase economic security, promote racial equity, ensure all kids have access to great schools, and build thriving communities for everyone.

Stay tuned for the next publications in the Progress in Washington series, which will explore policy solutions that address the barriers to opportunities described in the “Building an Inclusive Economy” report.

“Building an Inclusive Economy” is the first report in our Progress in Washington 2018 series. The report is intended to offer a framework for understanding the challenges before us. To reach the goal of an inclusive Washington state economy with shared prosperity for everyone, we need to know where we are, where we need to be, and how we can get there.

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Governor’s initiative on economic security is a big win for Washington’s families

Posted by Julie Watts at Nov 29, 2017 03:15 PM |

Governor Inslee has created a new inter-agency work group on family economic security that is a big step in the right direction to help families move themselves out of poverty in our state. The work group will be tasked with developing a 10-year strategy for poverty reduction in Washington state, based on an intergenerational approach to addressing poverty.

Intergenerational approaches to poverty promote the economic well-being of whole families across generations so that children can thrive and reach their full potential. The approach is centered around coordinated support for families across five key areas: high-quality early childhood education; higher education and career pathways; asset building; health and well-being; and social capital.

Family economic security

Nationally, similar initiatives that focus on economic success of families, as opposed to a focus on children or adults alone or in silos – are gaining momentum and showing very promising results. In Colorado, Utah, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma – to name just a few states – early investment in intergenerational programs are paying off and are leading to living-wage careers for parents, better education outcomes for kids, and a low rate of return to social benefit programs. 

The governor’s directive to create this work group is an important step to help families move out of poverty. It is also an important step to grow the middle class so that more residents can benefit from economic growth. As more families move out of poverty permanently and contribute to economic activity, that will pay dividends for the state economy.

The directive was the result of bipartisan efforts advance intergenerational strategies to address poverty in Washington. The creation of the work group is a sign that Washington’s leaders are turning a new page on how we go about policy development on economic security. The initiative calls for broad participation by state agencies, stakeholders, employers, people who are in poverty, and other communities that have historically not been included in conversations on public policy. 

Advancing poverty reduction policies using an intergenerational approach has long been a priority of the Washington State Budget & Policy Center. We look forward to continuing to work with the governor and his staff as well as with legislators and other key stakeholders to develop specific data-driven policy recommendations to reach poverty-reduction goals. This is a monumental step toward ensuring that every child, parent, and grandparent in Washington is able to reach their full potential and thrive.

 

KIDS COUNT Report: Barriers to Opportunity Prevent Children of Color and Immigrant Children from Reaching Their Full Potential

The United States and Washington state are stronger when we harness the talents and drive of all people – including children – who will help build the nation’s future. For our country and state to reach our full economic, democratic, and moral potential, all children must have the opportunity to grow, develop, and thrive. A new Annie E. Casey Foundation report shows that too many young people of color are still facing barriers to a bright future, however. While there have been modest gains in terms of the well-being of kids of color in Washington state over the last three years, the report notes that families of diverse backgrounds, including immigrant families, struggle against barriers to success. Policymakers must enact policies to level the playing field for all kids.

2017_AECF_Race_for_Results

The Casey Foundation report, 2017 Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children, measures children’s progress on the national and state levels in key education, health, and economic milestones by racial and ethnic groups. It shows that, in Washington state, Latino children, Black children, and American Indian children have lower overall scores of wellness compared to White and Asian and Pacific Islander children. Specifically, the report uses a composite score of child wellness based on a range of data indicators – with 1 being the lowest score and 1,000 being the highest. Latino, Black, and American Indian children scored 401, 456, and 459 respectively, while White children and Asian Pacific Islander children scored 719 and 756.

The 2017 Race for Results report also highlights the fact that children in immigrant families face some notable barriers:

  • Two-thirds of Washington children in U.S.-born headed households live in households with a basic-needs income or greater (above 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $40,320 for a family of three 2016), while just one in two children in immigrant families have an income sufficient to meet their basic needs. That income gap is larger in Washington than at the national level.
  • Children in immigrant families are less likely to grow up with a head of household who has at least a high school diploma.

More than 440,000 (28 percent) of Washington’s 1.6 million kids are children in immigrant families. Four out of five of immigrant children are children of color. Despite the challenges they face, children and young adults in immigrant families are also doing well on some measures:

  • Black and Asian Pacific Islander 3- and 4-year olds in immigrant families have the same or higher rates of enrollment in nursery school, preschool, or kindergarten than the Washington state average overall (60 percent).
  • Young adults aged 19 to 26 in immigrant families also tend to be working or enrolled in a degree, training, or certificate program at the same rates as their U.S.-born peers.
  • Black, White, and Asian Pacific Islander young adults in immigrant families are more likely to have an associate’s degree or other advanced degree.

The report underscores the formidable risks to healthy child development in immigrant families and for children of color that are caused by issues such as lack of access to living-wage jobs, limited educational opportunities, and family separation. These risks are further exacerbated by policies that limit resources and restrict access. Immigrant families are also facing policy proposals that threaten the residency status of 800,000 young people who have been granted a reprieve from fear of deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Washington state is home to 19,000 of the 800,000 DACA recipients.

All children need to reach their full potential if we are to reach ours as a nation. This means lawmakers must break down systemic barriers to opportunity placed in front of many children of color and immigrant children. With regard to immigrant children in particular, much of this country’s future success depends on how we equip immigrant families with the tools and skills that enable them to contribute to local economies – as immigrants have done since the founding of this country. The 2017 Race for Results report makes several recommendations to maximize children’s access to opportunity:

  • Keep families together. Immigration authorities and family courts can protect kids from adverse experiences by exercising discretion in choosing whether to separate parents from their children.
  • Help kids in communities of color, both immigrant and U.S.-born, to meet key developmental milestones. Policymakers can do more to link eligible families to quality early learning led by culturally competent teachers. More states, universities, and colleges can help qualified students pay for college without regard to immigration status.
  • Increase economic opportunity. Among the actions state policymakers can take is to increase access to occupational licenses and credentials to income-earning parents who entered their professions in foreign countries, boosting the prospects for higher household income.

To read more about how Washington’s kids are progressing on key milestones across racial and ethnic groups compared to the nation and other states, read the full 2017 Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children report and our KIDS COUNT in Washington press release.

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