|SNOHOMISH WASHINGTON NEWSPAPER||Tuesday, March 31, 2015|
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This afternoon, the Washington State Senate released its biennial budget proposal, which again cuts vital services to low-income children and families. Anti-poverty advocates are disappointed by the proposal, saying the cuts would be devastating to people in Washington who are already struggling under the weight of five years of cuts to services that support the health and safety of our communities.
Of particular concern was the Senate’s approach to the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. TANF provides a small cash grant to families with children who have incomes below 31% of the Federal Poverty Level. The grant helps these families pay for rent, basic hygiene items, and school supplies. According to Marcy Bowers, executive director of the Statewide Poverty Action Network, TANF is our state’s largest children’s program, having served 64,000 children each month in 2014.
“TANF is critical to reducing family homelessness and ensuring low-income families can meet their basic needs,” Bowers added.
While Senate budget writers proposed several key investments in early learning, K-12 and mental health, these investments came at the expense of our state’s most vulnerable families: families relying on TANF.
Their cuts to TANF include:
In addition to making new cuts, the Senate declined an important opportunity to support our state’s very low-income families with children. The missed opportunity came from an estimated $80 million in savings from a caseload underspend in the TANF program. Advocates maintain that the additional funds in TANF are due to deep cuts to the program over the past four years, and that those funds should be used to buy back cuts from 2011, in particular the 15% cut to the cash grant. Instead, the Senate proposal transfers the $80 million underspend, as well as an additional $47.4 million in cuts from TANF, to the General Fund.
“This is a step in the wrong direction for our state,” said Bowers. “In order to ensure all of our state’s students can succeed in school, we must invest in the programs like TANF that prevent child hunger and homelessness, in addition to funding education.”
With the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction reporting that there are 30,000 homeless K-12 students in Washington, advocates are urging the legislature to restore funding to TANF in order to help families with children avoid homelessness.
Advocates are calling on the legislature to keep low-income families in mind during budget negotiations. “We can do better than funding education at the expense of human services,” Bowers said. “Investments in K-12 are empty promises if we fund them by taking money from our most vulnerable students. It’s time to raise revenue to protect essential public services, invest in education, and create hope for the future.”
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