A Better Approach

TANF Working Group’s “Preferred Option”:

Protect our children and help their parents succeed


DC Families Continue to Struggle

DC can be a tough place to live for families that have been left behind by DC’s recent economic recovery. Too many of our families are still struggling to put food on the table and to keep the lights on, especially in Wards 7 and 8:

  • One in four DC children are living in poverty—that’s approximately $24,000 a year for a family of four [1]—and that figure is closer to one in two children in Wards 7 and 8.[2]

  • We have rising numbers of families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

  • Among DC’s lowest income residents, 62 percent devote half or more of their income to housing.[3]

  • DC is losing low-cost housing units—the number of apartments renting for less than $800 a month fell to 33,000 in 2012 from almost 60,000 in 2002.[4]


Wages have fallen since 2007 for working DC residents, but not for those with a college degree.[5] And a large number of DC residents remain out of work or are offered fewer hours than they want. Some 28 percent of DC residents with a high school diploma were under-employed in 2014—working part-time despite wanting full-time hours—or too discouraged to look for work, compared to 17 percent in 2007.[6]


TANF is a Lifeline for Kids

The TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program ensures that despite the economic hardships their parents face, our kids can have their most basic needs met no matter what. It’s not only the right thing to do, it also means our children go to school ready to learn and improves their chances of future success.

The TANF program targets DC’s families living in deep poverty—those who live at about 50 percent of the poverty line or less—and provides modest cash assistance, job training, subsidized childcare, and transportation support. While the TANF limit is harmful to families, the good news is that progress has been made in improving the TANF program. For example, wait times for job training have decreased and the number of families participating has doubled, and we can build on that progress.

Evidence shows that family economic stability is key to a child’s success. TANF’s monthly cash assistance, while modest, is often the difference between a child going to bed hungry or having heat in the cold winter months. With greater family economic stability, children experience less stress and are more likely to be healthy and succeed in school.


Help TANF Work for DC Families

Despite the importance of the TANF safety net for many DC families, DC is poised to push children deeper into distress on October 1, 2017 by dropping over 5,800 families—including more than 10,000 children—who have reached the 60-month time limit from the program.

Even with the best TANF services, some families face significant barriers such as domestic violence or a disability that get in the way of finding or holding a job. DC’s current rigid time limits do not give families the time they need to succeed. And, it is out of step with the rest of the country.

This is the reality: if families are kicked off of TANF without being put on a road to self-sufficiency, they will end up straining other costly programs such as homeless services or foster care. This is why we strongly support the Preferred Option put out by the TANF Working Group.


Pass the Preferred Option made by the Working Group to Inform a TANF Hardship Extension Policy for the District of Columbia

The Preferred Option written by the TANF working group builds on DC’s progress in fixing its TANF program to ensure TANF works as it is intended.

The Preferred Option divides a family’s TANF grant into 2 parts:

  • Child Enrichment Portion: The majority of a family’s TANF grant would be designated as child enrichment, and designed to meet the needs of children. This portion would not be subject to time limits, and thus would never be cut if a family continues to need this support.

  • Parent Portion: The rest of a family’s TANF grant money would be the parent’s portion. This would also not be subject to time limits, but could be cut if the parent fails to comply with their Individual Responsibility Plan (IRP), which outlines the activities the parent is required to complete in order to continue receiving the Parent Portion of their family’s TANF grant money.

With this approach, TANF can help provide stability and support through cash assistance to families with low incomes while also helping to prepare and connect parents to employment opportunities.


Changing the TANF time limit in DC is crucial for the success of many DC families. Strict time limits often push families deeper into poverty. In contrast, policies that help stabilize family incomes have long-term positive effects on children’s ability to succeed in school, get a high school or college degree, and find work as an adult. With the Preferred Option we can ensure that all families can have the resources they need in order to meet their children’s needs.




1 U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2015 Federal Poverty Guidelines.
2 U.S. Census Bureau, 2014 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates.
3  Claire Zippel, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, A Broken Foundation: Affordable Housing Crisis Threatens DC’s Lowest-Income Residents (2016). http://www.dcfpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/DCFPI-Broken-Foundation-Housing-Report-12-8-16.pdf
4  Wes Rivers, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, Going, Going, Gone: DC’s Vanishing Affordable Housing (2015), http://www.dcfpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Going-Going-Gone-Rent-Burden-Final-3-6-15format-v2-3-10-15.pdf.
5 Ilana Boivie, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, Two Paths to Better Jobs for DC Residents: Improved Training and Stronger Job Protections (2015). http://www.dcfpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/State-of-Working-DC-Final-10.14.15.pdf

6 Peter Tuths, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, A City Breaking Apart: The Incomes of DC’s Poorest Residents Are Falling, While Economic Growth is Benefitting Better-Off Residents (2016).