In a city where nearly half of residents receive some type of government handout, District officials are working to find ways to get residents off welfare assistance.
More than 232,000 D.C. residents — 40 percent of the city’s population — receive either food stamps, Medicaid assistance, welfare checks or some combination of the three, according to Department of Human Services Director David Berns.
Spurred by needed cuts in the city budget, D.C. has begun enforcing a cutoff date for welfare check recipients while revamping how the DHS serves those families in the transition.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
|Widening income gap|
|Median household||Income||Median household||Income gap|
|income 2000||gap 2000||income 2010||2010|
|West of Rock Creek Park||$78,527||$48,862||$104,777||$73,028|
|East of Anacostia River||$29,665||x||$31,749||x|
About 8 percent of those residents receive welfare checks from a federal program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF. But their eligibility only lasts five years.
“More than half of the clients we have on TANF have been on assistance for over five years,” Berns said. “We haven’t really had a community-focused way … into moving them into self-sufficiency, so they’ve languished in the system.”
The cutoff for TANF federal funding was put in place in 1996. But jurisdictions, including D.C., were slow to enforce that and often found supplemental funding through grants or other programs. Berns said the city is now spending several million dollars annually to keep paying benefits to individuals who ran out the clock on federal assistance.
Berns said he’s revamping the welfare program so families play a larger role in creating their own recovery programs instead of the agency dictating the services.
But his idea has its detractors.
“It looks good on paper but in reality it’s not going to happen — there are no jobs for college graduates, no jobs for high school graduates, no jobs for seniors,” said Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Sandra Seegars, aWard 8 council candidate. “So there’s no way this group jumps up ahead of them.”
The recession also has deepened that problem. According to a Brookings Institution report released Thursday, D.C. is the only jurisdiction that has neighborhoods where 40 percent of residents live below the poverty line of $22,350 income for a family of four.
The District’s poverty rate is 19 percent. Its neighbors, Maryland and Virginia, have rates of 10 and 11 percent, respectively.
At a presentation by Berns last week, Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans said he was concerned the council would not actually stick to its scheduled funding cuts to welfare checks. Those cuts began this year and are designed to end assistance for long-term recipients by mid-decade. The first 20 percent cut in monthly income began in April. Another 25 percent cut is planned for next October.
“We will have to make a choice in the future to end this program for some people,” Evans said. “So we have to be prepared for that reality. And there are seven members on this council who will never vote to end.”