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 largely by its state-funded assistance programs, which are designed to protect children and adults from the harmful effects of deep poverty. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Washington’s social safety net was already insufficient for individuals and families, and did not provide a baseline of financial stability. The existing health and financial hardships in low-income communities and communities of color have been further compounded by COVID-19, especially for Black, Indigenous, and Latino communities.

Poverty Action is dedicated to strengthening the state’s safety net and advocating for policies that will ensure a baseline of economic security. Our basic needs 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.

  • Protect current investments in the TANF program that provide essential coverage for families, especially as more families have turned to TANF to meet their basic needs during the pandemic.
  • Extend relief measures implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially through the following economic downturn.
  • Undo harsh policies which prevent families experiencing hardship from accessing TANF and create inequitable outcomes for Black and Indigenous families.

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.

  • Support policies that prioritize the health, wellness, and stability of Washingtonians with disabilities living on low incomes.
  • Protect all investments and refuse any cuts to HEN or ABD. A state budget shortfall does not have to mean fewer supports for adults with disabilities.