A strong social safety net is the foundation of a strong community. We should always have access to support and a baseline of financial stability, even when life throws unexpected challenges at us.

Washington state’s social safety net is formed in large part by its state-funded assistance programs, which are designed to protect children and adults from the harmful effects of deep poverty. However, program cuts and the rising cost of living have made it more difficult for people to get the help they need.

Poverty Action works to strengthen basic needs supports and advocate for policies that will ensure a baseline of economic security, no matter the situation. Our work is focused on three programs in particular: one that supports families with children, and two that support adults with disabilities.

Providing Assistance to Families with Children

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) / WorkFirst is the primary way that Washington state protects children and families from the trauma and debilitating effects of deep poverty. The program provides cash assistance and child care to families while parents participate in WorkFirst, which helps in job search, training, and addresses barriers to employment. Although there are thirty percent more families with children living in deep poverty today than a decade ago, our TANF program is serving more than 30,000 fewer families today than ten years ago. That’s tens of thousands of children in poverty who have been left behind by our state.

What We’re Doing About It:

Woman holding sign that reads TANF IS...a lifeline and way to keep our families safe and warm while we get back on our feet.

Poverty Action supports policy changes to TANF that restore common sense policies that prioritize family and child well-being over a rigid focus on compliance.

  • Undo harsh TANF policies that keep families from accessing TANF. These include enacting common sense time limit extensions and easing harsh sanction policies, including full-family sanctions which entirely eliminates a family’s grant while they are in sanction status.
  •  Re-instate the Child Support Pass-Through for TANF families, which would allow families to receive a portion of their child support payments currently withheld by the state.

Providing Assistance to Adults With Disabilities

Washington state offers temporary financial assistance to eligible adults with mental illnesses or physical disabilities. We focus on the two following programs:

  • Housing and Essential Needs (HEN)– a program that ensures that extremely low income people diagnosed with significant mental illnesses or physical disabilities can meet their basic needs. The program provides rent, utility, and transportation assistance, as well as access to health and hygiene items. While HEN is a highly effective program for preventing homelessness for extremely low-income people with disabilities, the current funding shortage is significantly limiting its impact. As a result, county providers are incurring wait lists and eligible clients are not being served. 
  • Aged, Blind, and Disabled (ABD)— this program helps extremely low-income adults with permanent mental health illnesses or physical disabilities by providing modest cash assistance of up to $197 per month.  The ABD cash grant remains at an all-time low after being slashed during the Great Recession, meaning recipients have fewer resources for out-of-pocket expenses.

What We’re Doing About It:

Poverty Action supports policies that prioritize the health, wellness, and stability of Washingtonians with disabilities living on low incomes.

  • Ensure shallow rental subsidies are available in high-cost regions of the state, so that the transition to federal disability benefits doesn’t result in an eviction or a return to homelessness.
  • Significantly raise the ABD cash grant to be on par with other cash assistance programs in Washington state, and eliminate ABD’s Shelter Penalty which punishes recipients for having safe, reliable shelter.