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Granite State Rumblings: TANF At 20 and Step Up Kids NH

Next Monday, August 22, 2016, marks the 20th anniversary of “welfare reform” in America. Congress created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant through the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, as part of a federal effort to “end welfare as we know it.”

Prior to welfare reform there was Aid to Families with Dependent Children or AFDC which served as the nation’s major cash welfare program.

AFDC was established in 1935, as part of the New Deal. It provided financial support for single mothers and children living in poverty.

Under TANF, the federal government provides a block grant to the states, which use these funds to operate their own programs.  In order to receive federal funds, states must also spend some of their own dollars on programs for needy families (they face severe fiscal penalties if they fail to do so).  This state-spending requirement, known as the “maintenance of effort” (MOE) requirement, replaced the state match that AFDC had required.

States can use federal TANF and state MOE dollars to meet any of the four goals set out in the 1996 law:  “(1) provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives; (2) end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage; (3) prevent and reduce the incidence of out of wedlock pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of these pregnancies; and (4) encourage the formation and maintenance of two parent families.”

States have used their TANF funds for a variety of services and supports, including:  income assistance (including wage supplements for working-poor families), child care, education and job training, transportation, aid to children at risk of abuse and neglect, and a variety of other services to help low-income families.  Since the four TANF goals are extremely general, states can use TANF funds much more broadly than the core welfare reform areas of providing a safety net and connecting families to work; some states use a substantial share of funding for these other services and programs.

~ Source: Center on Budget and Public Policy Priorities

The 1996 law authorized TANF funding through federal fiscal year 2002.  After several short-term extensions, Congress reauthorized TANF for another five years in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 and made some modifications to the program.  Since October 2010, Congress has again continued to extend TANF with short-term extensions rather than a full reauthorization.

The TANF program is long overdue for reform. The basic TANF block grant has been set at $16.5 billion each year since 1996; as a result, its real value has fallen by one-third due to inflation.

Back then we really didn’t know how living in poverty impacted children. Now we do. Researchers have found that the consequences of living in poverty and economic uncertainty for children and youth is especially harsh and could linger for years. Numerous studies have shown that children who grow up poor are more likely to suffer from poor health, developmental delays, behavioral problems, and lower academic achievement. Even temporary spells of poverty can have negative long-term effects on child development.

So the question is: Has TANF worked?

Some policymakers have pointed to TANF as a model for reforming other programs, but the facts suggest otherwise. TANF provides a greatly weakened safety net that does far less than AFDC did to alleviate poverty and hardship, as the Center on Budget and Public Policy Priorities’ LaDonna Pavetti and Liz Schott point out in their newly released report:

TANF at 20: Time to Create a Program that Supports Work and Helps Families Meet Their Basic Needs

TANF’s combination of nearly unfettered state flexibility, fixed block grant funding, narrowly defined work requirements, and time limits has created a system that provides a safety net to very few families in need and does little to prepare low-income parents for success in today’s labor market.  Federal policymakers can address these problems by adopting policy changes in three broad areas:  providing an effective safety net to poor families with children, creating effective work programs to help parents prepare for work, and ensuring adequate resources are available for achieving these goals.

Twenty years’ experience under TANF has provided more than enough information to see that the program is not working as intended and is leaving many children worse off than they were under AFDC. States certainly could have done a better job to further TANF’s twin goals of providing a safety net and connecting parents to work, but the law itself is a large part of the problem. It contains poorly designed incentives and requires no state accountability for providing a safety net. It does not promote effective work programs or hold states accountable for creating them. States have used TANF’s flexibility to spend the money in ways Congress never imagined, with less than a third of the funds going to providing a safety net or effective work programs. Given states’ dismal track record, federal law should change to hold states accountable in these key areas.

You can read the full report Here.

Writing in a blog post for The Hill, Melissa Boteach, Vice President of the Poverty to Prosperity Program, and Rebecca Vallas, Managing Director for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress (CAP) said this about the TANF program:

While a robust economy in the late 1990s, along with expansions in tax credits for working families and childcare investments initially helped spur a dramatic reduction in poverty, once the economy slowed down, TANF’s flaws began to surface.

The program was not designed to respond to recessions. Indeed, during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, many states actually cut back on assistance while unemployment and hardship were quickly rising. States began diverting TANF funds to plug budget holes, leaving just one in every four TANF dollars for income support to struggling families.
The result? Today, just one-quarter of poor families with children are helped by TANF, and assistance is so meager that in no state are benefits for a family of three enough to make rent on a two-bedroom apartment. In fact, TANF’s ineffectiveness at mitigating hardship has directly contributed to the rise in deep poverty.

In addition, a wealth of evidence now demonstrates that TANF’s work requirements are ineffective at boosting employment. That’s not surprising, given such requirements do nothing to address the lack of good jobs or barriers to work like childcare and transportation.

…..Without vital programs such as Social Security, nutrition assistance, and tax credits for working families, our nation’s poverty rate would be nearly twice as high as it is today. Moreover, these investments not only mitigate poverty today, they boost economic mobility tomorrow, improving children’s health, education, and employment outcomes in adulthood.

Ensuring an adequate safety net is something we all have a stake in. Job loss, low wages, ill health, and the birth of a child are the most common triggers of poverty spells in the U.S. More than half of Americans will experience at least a year of poverty or teetering on the economic brink during their working years, and fully 70 percent will need to turn to the safety net at some point.

We must take steps to strengthen the program so it can protect kids and families from hardship. Benefit adequacy, meaningful accountability, and reforms to support TANF recipients in obtaining the education and skills they need to get ahead are key priorities.

But we cannot stop there. To dramatically reduce poverty and expand opportunity, we must also pursue a bold agenda to build an economy that works for everyone—not just those at the top of the income ladder. This includes supporting job-creating investments in infrastructure, research, and education, and pathways to good jobs such as apprenticeships and subsidized employment. It’s long past time to raise the federal minimum wage so it ceases to be a poverty wage, and to adopt paid leave and paid sick days so working parents are not forced to choose between work and caregiving.

We should also protect and strengthen key investments in nutrition, housing, income security, and healthcare—including women’s reproductive healthcare and rights—to ensure basic living standards for all families. And we must invest in the next generation by ensuring affordable high-quality childcare, pre-K for all, and access to higher education.

Twenty years later, it’s not just time to fix TANF; it’s time to enact an agenda that will dramatically bolster family economic security once and for all.

We agree.

GRANITE STATE RUMBLINGS

Mark your calendars for our 8th annual Step Up for Kids Day! We will be back on the State House lawn on this year with plenty of fun activities, games, and musical entertainment for kids of all ages!

NHStepUp2016

What Will The NH Senate Do About Medicaid Expansion???

Medicaid Expanison RallyNew Hampshire is at what is unfortunately shaping up to be an ideological crossroad. Do we as a state expand Medicaid or not.

Both the left and the right agree that expanding Medicaid would help tens of thousands of Granite Staters.  They quibble over the number of people who are uninsured versus the number of under-insured who would leave private insurance for Medicaid.  Obviously having Medicaid (which has no cost to the resident) is better that paying a premium for private health insurance.  Then again you have to be living at the poverty level already to qualify for Medicaid.

There are other disagreements in this debate.  One of the main reasons that people are opposed to expanding Medicaid is because they do not pay healthcare providers as much as private insurance.  Hospitals say that the difference between Medicaid payments and private insurance is a loss. Yet even with those losses the NH Hospital Association is pushing for the expansion.  Why, because a lower payment for care, is better than no payment for care.

The Affordable Care Act marketplaces (or exchanges) do not provide subsidies to everyone.  Medicaid is also a very restrictive program when it comes to who qualifies. Expanding Medicaid will bring the two programs closer together.  These are the very poor. These are the people who could not afford to buy healthcare even if they had the option.  They are children, pregnant women,  seniors, and people with disabilities.

Here is where the ideology comes into play.  The Medicaid expansion is part of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).  With the expansion comes large amounts of federal funding. In fact the federal government has agreed in the law to pay 100% of the  costs for expanding Medicaid for three years. Then they will pay 90% from then on.

The opponents of the Medicaid expansion want you to believe that the federal government will not uphold their end of the deal.  They say that they will not pay the 100% as they say they would.  Here is the deal, this is a federal law.  There is no question about whether or not they are going to pay for it, they have to.  The only way out of it, is to change the law. After 37 attempts to repeal it, the law is not going away.

Every day there is news about how the new ACA marketplaces are going to save middle to low-income families vast amounts of money in their healthcare costs.

Opposing the expansion means that NH will lose out on $250-$300 million dollars in federal funding. Once again the opponents are attempting to detour the expansion by using the federal deficit. They are trying to say that expanding Medicaid is the reason we have a deficit problem.  This is an ideological fight that neither side can win.  The right wants austere cuts to social programs to reduce the budget, while the left wants to cut defense spending and re-invest in America.  The opponents of the ACA seem to be overlooking that even before the ACA is fully implemented it is already saving the federal government hundreds of millions dollars.

Here is the best part of the Medicaid expansion. If for some reason the federal government does not fund the program at 100% like they say, NH can immediately go back to the previous levels.  They can back out of the expansion at any time. The US Supreme Court already ruled that Medicaid expansion was not mandatory under the ACA. The means the expansion is voluntary, and NH can walk away at any if the program fails for any reason.

I implore the NH Senate to listen to the people of New Hampshire who need your help.  Listen to the over 25,000 low wage workers who would benefit from this expansion. They need you to vote to expand Medicaid.  Listen to the hospitals who in favor of the expansion, because some reimbursement is better than no reimbursement.  Do not leave 22,000 needy families without healthcare another day.

Medicaid Expansion Lobby Day, Will You Be There???

Former Speaker Bill O’Brien is sponsoring a House Bill 271, which would keep NH from expanding Medicaid, and the hearing is on Tuesday. We need your help to attend and show your support for expansion.  They even moved the hearing to Representatives’ Hall, which is HUGE, so we need get a lot of people there to fill the room!

If you’re interested in attending or testifying, please contact me at jdubois@nhcitizensalliance.org or 603-724-4047.

What: Lobby Day to gather and prepare for the hearing on O’Brien’s bill. You will be able to register and grab some breakfast, then learn more about the expansion, practice your testimony, reach out to your State Senators, and even help make signs. Be sure to wear blue and grab a  “SUPPORT MEDICAID EXPANSION!” sticker!

Where: We’re meeting for Lobby Day on the 3rd floor of 4 Park Street in Concord, then we’ll be walking over to the hearing at Representatives’ Hall in the State House.

When: Lobby Day starts at 9am on Tuesday, February 5th, but if you can’t make it that early, you can head straight to the hearing, which starts at 10am.

Interested in testifying? If you’ve never testified before, no problem! We’re looking for grassroots activists to testify, especially those who might benefit from the expansion themselves, or who are involved in the medical or business community. No worries if you’re not an expert! We can help you. Attached are handouts with talking points about expansion, directions for how to testify, and a presentation about the expansion. You can come in to meet with me to talk over your testimony, or just send me a copy to look over and edit. Please let me know what help you need.

Spread the word! Please share this event with your friends and networks. You can forward this email or send invitations to your Facebook friends at https://www.facebook.com/events/107245266121532/.

Can’t make it? Send an email to the Health, Human Services, & Elderly Affairs Committee at HHSEA@leg.state.nh.us. Write a message using the attached talking points and tell them to find HB 271 “inexpedient to legislate”.

Background on expansion:

Medicaid expansion is an essential part of the Affordable Care Act’s plan to greatly reduce the uninsured population. It became optional for states after the Supreme Court ruling last June. Right now, Medicaid in NH covers very few able-bodied adults. The expansion would change this and extend coverage to anyone whose family income is less than 138% of the federal poverty level. This would include individuals making less than $15,415, couples or single parents making less than $20,880, and families of four making less than $31,809.

In addition, expansion will help reduce providers’ uncompensated care costs, which will in turn help stabilize costs for families and businesses that buy private insurance. It will be a great deal for New Hampshire since it will be mostly funded by the federal government. All those federal dollars coming into the state also mean a boost to our economy.

This event is being sponsored and organized by NH Voices forHealth, NH Citizens Alliance, Granite State Progress, and other allied groups.

Professional Fire Fighters Of New Hampshire Give Back To Their Communities This Holiday Season

Concord, NH – The Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire on behalf of their 42 locals throughout New Hampshire are proud to announce that this holiday season their locals have raised thousands of dollars through fundraisers and toy drives over the last few weeks, to bring gifts to children all across the state.

“Each holiday season our members take time to help the families and children in their communities, whether it’s hosting fundraisers and toy drives to collect gifts, providing holiday meals, or delivering toys to hundreds of children on Christmas Day.   Local fire fighters’ care about their communities and the families they serve each and every day,” said David Lang, President of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire.

An example of what some locals have been doing for their communities:

  • Claremont Local #1571 is expected to raise $2,000 for Toys for Tots.
  • Dover Local #1312 and Dover Officers Local #2909 are continuing their 35 year tradition of providing toys to children age infant to 14 years old. Through their toy drive they expect to be able to provide 3 toys to each child in the community. Last year the local was able to provide gifts to over 900 children.
  • Hanover Local #3288 purchased toys to support Toys for Tots.
  • Hudson Local #3154 will continue their 20 year tradition of supporting one family (2 adults and 4 children) in their community to deliver gifts on Christmas Eve.
  • Keene Local #3265 has purchased gifts for 2 families in their community.
  • Laconia Local #1153 supported the WLNH auction. The local raised over $3,000 and purchased over $1,000 dollars’ worth of items that were auctioned off.
  • Manchester Local #856 is doing a pajama drive in conjunction with Kid Café (a Salvation Army affiliate).
  • Nashua, Local #789 did a Christmas Basket drive, where they provided approximately 70 families with a basket of Christmas Dinner fixings. They were delivered to each of the families on December 20th.
  • North Hampton Local #3211 is helping 20 families, 42 children total, with toys and Shaws gift cards.
  • Pelham Local #4546 is hosting a toy and food drive for families in their community.
  • Somersworth Local #2320 is holding a toy drive for 185 applicants, providing toys to 400-500 children.
  • Portsmouth Local #1313 and Portsmouth Officers Local #4039 provided toys and gifts to 39 families in Portsmouth. They are also taking a trailer full of gifts to New York City tomorrow for the Fire Fighters families who lost everything in Hurricane Sandy.

“We know that the holiday season can be a difficult time for some New Hampshire families, and we want to make sure we do our part to bring some comfort and happiness to the children of New Hampshire and their families during this season,” stated Lang.

Please contact your local fire department for more information on how to donate toys for children in New Hampshire this holiday season.

The PFFNH, headquartered in Concord, NH represents more than 2,000 active and retired fire fighters and paramedics.  More information is available at www.pffnh.org

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