OLYMPIA – Legislation passed today by the Washington State Senate would restore recession-era cuts that have exacerbated a number of the root causes of the state’s growing homelessness crisis.
The past decade saw $286 million in cuts to the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program – a program that helps to alleviate some of the root causes of the housing and homelessness crisis which people have ranked as their top area of concern.
“As someone who grew up in a family that relied on TANF, I know how important this program is to families across Washington,” said Sen. Joe Nguyen (D-White Center), the bill’s sponsor. “This bill is an investment in the people of Washington state, and part of a larger effort to alleviate homelessness and ensure we have a stable environment for working families in our state.”
A vital resource for those in need, WorkFirst currently imposes restrictions that require recipients to participate in one or more WorkFirst activities such as job hunting training, career development, and vocational training programs. However, the requirement fails to consider those who are unable to meet this requirement due to barriers outside of their control such as inability to access childcare, family illness, mental health disorders, and homelessness.
The Department of Social and Human Services has found that, of recipients who were cut off from TANF due to noncompliance:
- 80% did not have childcare,
- 40% were homeless,
- 57% were unstably housed in the prior year,
- 63% needed mental health services, and
- 33% had a chronic disease or serious disability.
Individuals unable to meet the WorkFirst requirement may lose TANF grants as a consequence. Additionally, because those who depend on TANF grants care for at least one child, a termination of the family’s grant results in a penalty to the child who was at no fault of their own.
Senate Bill 6478, which passed on a 30-18 vote, would reform the penalty to allow those in crisis more time to re-engage in work activities to prevent penalizing the children of those unable to meet WorkFirst requirements.
Under the bill, if a recipient is unable to engage in work activities for two months, their family’s grant would be reduced by either 40% or the recipient’s share of the grant. After 12 months of noncompliance, the family’s grant could then be terminated.
“These important changes work to help families in crisis not fall into homelessness or further poverty,” said Nguyen. “The funding cuts that these programs have seen since the recession have played a massive role in the homelessness crisis we’re seeing today. This bill addresses those inequities and works to restore the program.”
The bill will now move to the House for consideration.
For information: Courtney James, Senate Democratic Caucus Communications, (360)-786-7853