Agency Budget Hearing, Fiscal Year 2017, Department of Human Services

Yesterday we submitted written testifimony to the FY17 Budget Hearing for the Department of Human Services. We discuss the state of TANF reform in the District and importance of building data capacity to support service provision and case management. You may find our full remarks below.

 

Testimony of HyeSook Chung, Deputy Director

DC Action for Children 

Agency Budget Hearing, Fiscal Year 2017

Department of Human Services 

Before the Committee on Health and Human Services

Council of the District of Columbia

April 20, 2016

 

Thank you for the opportunity to submit written testimony to the Council as it reviews the proposed Fiscal Year 2017 budget for the Department of Human Services (DHS). My name is HyeSook Chung, and I am the executive director of DC Action for Children (DC Action).

 

DC Action provides data-based analysis and policy leadership on critical issues facing DC children and youth in order to promote policies and actions that optimize child and family well-being.

 

DC Action is the home of DC KIDS COUNT, a project that tracks key indicators of child well-being in the DC neighborhoods where children live, learn and grow. We work closely with city agencies, the school system and service providers to share the most accurate and timely data, along with clear and accessible analysis. Our advocacy agenda is based on these data.

 

The District is home to over 12,100 families with children that are living in poverty, nearly 90 percent of these families are headed by single parents.[1] We are committed to realizing a vision of our District in which children and families in need receive quality services to support their development and well-being. We are impressed with the department's investments for Fiscal Year 2017 as it continues to prioritize the needs of the next generation of Washingtonians and their families.

 

Building Data Capacity

In recent years, DHS has made significant improvements in the ways it collects and uses data, particularly with the development of the DC Access System (DCAS), the new health and human services data platform. DCAS streamlines service provision for District residents by providing automated eligibility determination and ongoing case management for DHS programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in addition to helping reduce fraud by eliminating duplicative services. DCAS is also an important support for District agencies that rely on DHS data to determine eligibility for other means tested programs. For example, while much of DC’s child care system is overseen by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), DHS is responsible for determining eligibility for the city’s child care subsidy program.

 

Given the importance of this data system, we are pleased to see an increase of nearly $4 million dollars and the addition of 12.5 full time employees in this year’s proposed budget to support the DCAS. As more DHS data is added to the system, DCAS will help DHS staff and other partners gain a more complete picture of the needs of families so that they might better coordinate service delivery. We look forward to learning more about the development of DCAS over the coming year.

 

TANF Reform in the District

The District’s TANF program provides a critical lifeline for low-income District residents facing barriers to employment. As of December 2015, the District’s TANF program managed a caseload of 15,889 families. Of these families, 53% live in Wards 7 and 8, while only 12% live in Wards 1, 2 and 3.[i]

 

Historically, the District has contributed local funding to cover families enrolled in TANF for longer than the federal 60-month time limit. However, the District’s TANF policy is changing. In 2010, the DC Council passed legislation to gradually phase out benefits for families who have been enrolled in TANF for longer than 60-months. These changes are taking place while the city completes a redesign of its TANF program, at the center of which is the new TANF Universal Service Delivery Model. Under this new evidenced-based approach, all TANF recipients are assigned to a vendor who assesses their work and education histories and then links them with tailored services that address their specific barriers to employment.[ii]

 

We applaud the steps DHS has taken to successfully implement this new model, including adopting a performance-based contracting system for TANF vendors and adding additional vendors to handle the more intensive services. As a result, the number of customers awaiting assignment to a TANF Employment Services Program (TEP) provider has dramatically decreased, from 2,600 in January of 2015 to effectively zero today.

 

In the comingn weeks, DC Action will release a policy snapshot that points to the emerging impact of the District’s TANF reforms. Between FY2012 and FY2015, TANF workforce participation rates in the District have more than doubled. During the past three years TANF recipients are finding better paying jobs and experiencing greater employment stability. The share of new jobs with low-wages under $10 an hour declined from 51% to 34% while the share of new jobs with wages above $10.00 an hour grew from 20% to 28%. Additionally, the number of TANF customers employed for longer than six months has more than doubled and now account for 75% of all TANF customers with jobs. Despite these positive trends, a large share of TANF recipients remain unengaged — many of such unengaged recipients with the longest stays on TANF have cycled through numerous service options without success. In fact, in FY2015 56% of the TANF recipients that had been assigned to a vendor did not engage in services at all.

 

Given the positive outcomes we’ve seen with this new TANF model, we are pleased to see that additional funding was allocated in this year’s budget to extend benefits to families who would have timed-out of TANF for another year, allowing them more time to take advantage of the redesigned program model. However, for unengaged families or families facing especially severe barriers to employment, the impending TANF deadline could have a severe impact. As the District’s reforms phase-out benefits for long-term recipients, these families are often forced to turn to other forms of financial support, creating an increased burden on other safety net programs that are also facing budget cuts. Indeed, since 2011 the number of families receiving benefits through SNAP) has risen by nearly 32%. As the new TANF cutoff approaches, we hope that DHS will work to ensure that other safety net services, like SNAP, are sufficiently funded to protect children and families from falling into extreme poverty.

 

Thank you again for the opportunity to submit this written testimony and we will be happy to provide any additional support. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me at hchung@dckids.org.

 

Sincerely,

HyeSook Chung

 


[i] DC KIDS COUNT Analysis of DC Human Services TANF Enrollment data.

[ii] Berns, D. A. (2011). The redesign of DC’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. DC Department of Human Services. Retrieved from, http://www.buildingbetterprograms.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/DCTANFRedesign-WhitePaperFinal26Aug2011.pdf

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