Legal Aid Testifies to Amend TANF Time Limits
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Westra Miller, Staff Attorney

Last Thursday, I and other advocates testified before a D.C. Council Committee in support of the “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Time Limit Amendment Act of 2012.”  This bill, which was recently introduced to the D.C. Council by Councilmembers Jim Graham and Michael Brown, would change D.C.’s TANF laws to allow the Department of Human Services (DHS) more time to provide improved services to families who have received benefits for more than 60 months.  It will also give vulnerable families extra time to address certain barriers to employment.  My written and oral testimony highlighted the reasons why it is critical that the Council enact this bill or a similar bill.         

Currently, all families who receive D.C. TANF for more than 60 months face a series of reductions to their monthly benefit amounts, followed by the eventual termination of their benefits.  If the newly-introduced bill is not passed, approximately 6,000 families on TANF will see their monthly benefits decrease by 40% in October 2012.  A family of three, otherwise entitled to $428 per month, will be asked to make do with $257 per month this fall.  These reductions apply to the majority of families who have exceeded the TANF time limit, regardless of whether DHS has properly connected them with job-training and other support services.  In recent months, DHS has begun to offer redesigned services to TANF recipients, but the delivery of these new services is slow and only an estimated 2,000 families have received the individualized assessments that are the cornerstone of D.C.’s redesigned TANF program.       

The TANF Time Limit Amendment Act corrects some of these concerns by postponing benefit reductions for a year so that more families will be able to get matched to services before their benefits are impacted.  Within 12 months of terminating benefits, DHS would be required to assess a recipient and provide supports to help the recipient’s family transition from TANF.  Families that have already had their benefits reduced due the imposition of time limits would have their benefits restored to the full payment level through October 2013.  Families facing hardships—such as caring for an ill or disabled family member or recovering from domestic violence—could receive exemptions from the time limits for certain months.  Finally, the bill also extends the time limits up to 24 months for recipients who are enrolled in approved post-secondary or  job-training programs.   

Written testimony on these issues can be accessed here.

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