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President’s Budget Boosts Funding to Fight Deep Poverty

February 9, 2016 at 3:00 PM

Recognizing the long-term consequences that children face when they live in deep poverty — as researchers Kathy Edin and Luke Shaefer detailed in their book, $2 a Day:  Living on Almost Nothing in America — the President’s budget includes new initiatives to help deeply poor families improve their circumstances and prevent other families from falling into such poverty.  

They include:

  • Increased funding and improved targeting of resources for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant.  Funding for the TANF block grant has been frozen since its creation in 1996, with no adjustment for inflation, and has lost 30 percent of its value since then.  The budget proposes to add $8 billion in funding over five years.     This increase would make up a modest share of the ground that TANF funding has lost since its inception.  In addition, the budget calls for reforming TANF so that more of its resources are devoted to the program’s core purposes — work, child care, and basic cash assistance.  
  • Emergency Aid and Service Connection Grants.  Many poor families live on the brink of financial crisis.  Although many of the issues that send families into crisis — a broken-down car or disconnected telephone, for example — can be resolved with a one-time payment, few agencies have access to resources to provide such assistance.  Similarly, few outlets exist to help families put together the package of resources and services they need to begin the climb out of deep poverty.  The budget provides $2 billion over ten years to encourage states and local communities to test innovative strategies to stave off problems that can send families on a downward spiral into job loss and homelessness, and to help families who already have experienced such crises find a way out. 
  • Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children.  Summer is most often associated with fun and relaxation.  But for poor children who eat meals at school, summer too often means going hungry.  Recognizing the important role that nutrition plays in children’s healthy development, the budget includes $12 billion over ten years to reduce child hunger by providing additional food benefits to low-income families with school-aged children during the summer.  This initiative, which would serve 1 million children in the first year and then increase gradually over time, would expand a rigorously evaluated pilot project that showed that providing additional food benefits during the summer reduced food insecurity. 
  • Initiative to improve mobility for low-income families.  Children who move to lower-poverty neighborhoods have better long-term outcomes than children who stay in high-poverty neighborhoods, recent research shows.  The budget provides $15 million over three years to implement a Housing Choice Voucher Mobility Demonstration program to determine the most cost-effective strategies to help families with housing vouchers move to and stay in better neighborhoods.  The President is also requesting an increase of about $400 million in 2017 to fully fund the cost of administering the Housing Choice Voucher program effectively, based on a 2015 study, and allow state and local housing agencies to assist more families to move to higher-opportunity neighborhoods. 
  • Initiative to end family homelessness.  The combined effects of stagnant wages and escalating rental costs have left many families homeless or unstably housed, which in turn makes looking for work and holding a job harder and can have long-term harmful effects on children.  The budget requests $11 billion for a new ten-year initiative to provide housing vouchers and rapid rehousing grants with the goal of ending homelessness among families with children.  In addition, the budget includes a down payment of funding for 10,000 new housing vouchers for homeless families with children in 2017.   

These initiatives, which build on the Administration’s commitment to use evidence to drive decision-making, would help fill large holes in the safety net for the country’s poorest families and children.  They deserve policymakers’ bipartisan support.