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Obama Proposal Would Help Families Avoid Downward Spiral

January 19, 2016 at 4:00 PM

The President’s 2017 budget will include $2 billion for Emergency Aid and Service Connection Grants to states to test new ways to help families that are on the brink of financial crisis or have already hit bottom and are extremely poor.  It deserves Congress’ support.

Many poor or near-poor families are one setback away from a downward spiral that can lead to job loss, homelessness, or both.  The President’s proposal would fund innovative state and local approaches to help families avert such crises, such as with help getting a car repaired or paying overdue rent.  This approach supports family stability and is far better — and less costly — than providing aid only after the family hits bottom. 

Many families that are already very poor would also benefit from innovative approaches to climbing back to stability.  The number of families in “extreme poverty,” surviving on cash incomes of no more than $2 per person per day in any given month, more than doubled between 1996 and 2011, to 1.5 million — including nearly 3 million children.  Many of them get no help from state welfare reform programs, even though they often have the greatest barriers to self-sufficiency and the most need of services. 

The Obama proposal’s approach of flexible grants to states to test new ideas deserves bipartisan support.  It’s consistent with recent congressional testimony by the Brookings Institution’s Ron Haskins, who helped write the 1996 welfare law as a key House Republican staffer.  Haskins raised concerns about the many people who are disconnected from both welfare and work and suggested, “[o]ne idea would be to provide a source of funding for states to develop programs to help . . . troubled mothers [move] toward employment in incremental steps.”  The President’s proposal would do just that.

This is a proposal on which all sides can agree.  It can lead to better futures for many struggling families and children.