Homeless families are falling through the cracks of the District of Columbia's welfare program, according to a report released on Tuesday by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. The report documents the how homelessness has affected families in the District with regard to the welfare program and families' efforts to find employment. Sunday, August 22, will mark the three-year anniversary of the overhaul of welfare as we knew it. The replacement of Assistance for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in 1996 marked the end of welfare as an entitlement and the creation of welfare as a temporary bloc grant program. In D.C., as in many states, this program is characterized not only by time limits but also by strict conditions for the receipt of benefits.
Based on a survey of forty-four homeless families in D.C., the report, titled "Broken Contract: Failing the District of Columbia's Homeless Welfare Recipients," finds that homeless families face extra barriers because of their homelessness when seeking to comply with TANF requirements and obtain employment.
The Law Center study finds that:
The District's TANF program fails to address barriers to employment that arise from the state of being homeless.
Forty-three percent of the mothers surveyed reported that they had to miss work or a job interview due to a lack of affordable transportation. Eighteen percent reported missing work or a job interview due to a lack of child care.
TANF restrictions themselves pose barriers to employment: Nine percent of respondents had been told to leave an education or training program to comply with TANF work requirements.
The transience caused by homelessness caused benefits to be stopped or reduced because District TANF offices lost paperwork when transferring families' records from one welfare office to another. Benefit checks and notices of meetings with TANF caseworkers sometimes arrived late because they were sent to a family's previous address.
34% of the families reported their benefits had been stopped or reduced due to "paperwork problems."
Fifty percent of the families surveyed reported their benefit checks had arrived late at least once.
Lack of phones was the most frequently mentioned barrier to employment when families were asked which aspect of living in a shelter if any made it difficult to obtain work. Several shelters do not allow phones in the families' rooms, even if the families could afford them. Families must compete with other families to use pay phones or the shelter office phone for job searches. Potential employers must leave messages for families with shelter staff. Shelter curfews were also mentioned as a barrier to employment. Because of curfew, families were unable to obtain night jobs which otherwise might have been available to them. A recent study by the Urban Institute found that, of families who left welfare, more than 25% worked at night jobs.
The report includes findings from the study, a detailed list of recommendations for the District of Columbia regarding TANF services and shelter services, and profiles of the five women interviewed.
The study recommended that the District TANF program provide on-site child care to families in the shelters; provide transportation assistance to help homeless families find employment; coordinate with local shelters to ensure paperwork is not lost when families move into or out of the shelters; and establish a voice mail system to help potential employers reach homeless families.
"Broken Contract", funded by the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer and Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundations, will be released at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, August 17, 1999, at the Business Improvement District, 1250 H St., NW, 8th floor. "As our new report shows, homeless parents and their children often lose out on both benefits and work opportunities - because of their homelessness. For these needy families, TANF is often a prescriptio