Sunday, November 14, 2010

Unfortunately, B18-1061 does not end the cycle of poverty

Public policy analyst and advocate Kathryn Baer and the Legal Aid Society of DC have shared useful summaries of B18-1061, "District of Columbia Public Assistance Amendment Act."   Both have also published analyses of the legislation; Baer provides information to set the current context while Legal Aid presents research and practice challenges presented by the legislation.

The bottom line from both sources?   B18-1061 is bad public policy.

Not only would B18-1061 limit receipt of welfare benefits no matter the source of funding, as written the bill would limit other federal benefits.   These benefits include Medicaid, child care subsidies, homeless services, and funding for grandparents caring for their grandchildren.

Co-introducer Marion Barry's interest in moving this legislation is to end the cycle of poverty.   At the November 12 press conference with co-introducer Ward 7 CM Yvette Alexander, Barry said he is guilty of not doing enough in his time as mayor and member of the Council to empower residents and help them become self-sufficient.   In his press statement, he said

The result of these discussions uncovered the fact that out of 17,800 families currently in the program; only 500 families were in compliance with the program.   That means there are thousands of families in the programs who are not complying, and the government does not have a system currently in place to determine why they aren’t.

Why aren’t the families complying?   What are the barriers that prevent them from complying with the program?   Why do we not know the answers to these questions?

The fact is that we at least once knew the answers to these questions.   Under the leadership of then-IMA director Kate Jesberg, the Department of Human Services contracted with Urban Institute to conduct a leavers study and a study of challenges facing DC TANF recipients.   Together, the 2001 Urban report The Status of TANF Leavers in the District of Columbia Final Report and the 2003 report A Study of the District of Columbia's TANF Caseload provide a wealth of information and data that can and should be used to craft programs, interventions, and public policies.   Both reports were used soon after their release for these purposes.

It does not seem possible that B18-1061 will, as CM Barry says, "break the cycle of jobless, poverty and dependence on public assistance."

It is indeed a laudable goal to help residents improve their economic, social, and professional positions.   But this bill as written will only serve to remove benefits, most of which the federal government has not time-limited.   The bill does nothing to make the government from the mayor down implement public policies and practices, informed by the research and best practices, which will achieve CM Barry's goal of breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

Those with something to say about the bill are encouraged to testify at the November 15 public hearing on the bill.   Details are in the hearing notice.

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