November 18, 2009

Food Stamp Benefits Needed for Families Moving from Welfare to Work

[This is authored by Katie Vinopal, Nutrition Associate at DC Hunger Solutions, and cross-posted from the DC Food For All.]

A new report by So Others Might Eat (SOME Inc.) and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute finds that Temporary Assistance for Needy Familes (TANF) is not providing adequate support for the 16,000 low-income families in the District's program. TANF is designed to provide job training, supportive services, and cash assistance, with the goal of helping adults who are able to work find jobs.

Others have written about the findings of the report and its innovative methods. What hasn't yet been discussed is cash assistance, and in particular the supports available as families transition from TANF to employment.

At D.C. Hunger Solutions, we’ve often heard that cash assistance and food stamps rarely last the full month, leaving people without enough money to buy food. This report comes to the same conclusion, pointing out that the benefits TANF families receive ($428 a month for a family of three) are not enough to make ends meet. These families often face one or more weeks at the end of the month without enough money to buy food.

Research has consistently shown that even a temporary increase in food insecurity can have a long-lasting and serious impact on the well-being and health of families.

While the report recommends the District government increase cash assistance, something Fair Budget Coalition and others have pushed for, there's another immediate step the District can take to improve food security for TANF families: adopting transitional food stamp benefits, a policy option that will help families moving from TANF to paid employment.

Adopting this policy makes sense for D.C. families. There is a reduction in public benefits that accompanies an increase in earnings which makes transitioning from TANF to work that much more difficult. According to the report, a family of three that works for $9 an hour at their job (well below the living wage at $12.10), will lose $4,512 in food stamp benefits annually. Even worse, many families drop out of the food stamp program altogether when they leave TANF, unaware that they may still be eligible for benefits.

As one TANF recipient says in the report, "It's more than you get with TANF but when you look at it, if you take that job, they're going to take all your benefits from you once you get that job, so that means you have no help with food."

Under the transitional food stamps policy option, a family leaving TANF can continue to receive the same food stamp benefit, adjusted for the loss of TANF income, without any additional interviewing, processing, or reporting requirements, for up to five months. And the payment is 100% federally funded. Nineteen states, including Maryland and Virginia, have already adopted this option.

During this difficult transition from TANF to employment, the District must ensure that families do not go hungry. Adopting transitional food stamp benefits for these families is one important way of providing this support and moving families toward stability

Katie Vinopal, Nutrition Associate at DC Hunger Solutions

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