Since Statewide Poverty Action Network was founded in 1996, our bread-and-butter issue has been strengthening the range of cash assistance programs available to Washingtonians. Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and the Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC) are economic lifelines. WFTC is a state version of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that provides cash assistance to people with low incomes, including people – often immigrants – who file taxes with an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). TANF is a federal program administered differently by each state, and its main goal is to help families meet their most basic needs and to protect children from the devastating effects of “deep poverty” (as measured by living 50% or more below the Federal Poverty Line).
What we hear from our community partners around the state is that these programs do not currently provide a pathway out of poverty for Washingtonians living on a low income. Families are often not aware of the options available to them, unsure how to navigate complicated application processes, and overwhelmed by WorkFirst and other program requirements. Once they’ve jumped through all these hoops, the amount that they receive makes it nearly impossible to meet their basic needs, never
“[The TANF time limit] really hits me harder than the amount of money. The length of time is not long enough. Also, the 20, 25 hours of non-work that TANF makes people do is really, really hard for a healthy person that’s really, really, really motivated to do it. I’m doing school. I’m doing mental health counseling once a week. I’m doing the YWCA advocacy on top of that. That’s once a week. On top of that I have to do another group an hour a week. All those challenges, not challenges, but things that I have to do around raising a child as well and then my homework and everything else, that’s like…When am I going to get a job? They need to coordinate, figure out a better way to figure out how to get a job, how to get people more stable than just here’s your money. We know the hoops to the system of getting the money and then what you get out of it is nothing.”–Spokane Listening Session Attendee
We should all be able to receive the help we need, when we need it. However, policies like TANF time limits, the withholding of child support payments from families receiving TANF, and other restrictions prevent Washingtonians living on a low income from accessing the cash assistance they need and qualify for.
Our current system does not work the same for everyone. Black, Indigenous, and multiracial families are cut off benefits at higher rates than their portion of the TANF caseload due to time limits. The Office of Fraud and Accountability has confirmed that Black, Indigenous, and Spanish speaking families are more likely to be targets of fraud investigations related to benefits.
We envision a system built on support, not suspicion, where low-income Washingtonians have a seat at the table to ask for and receive the help they need. Cash assistance programs should be a pathway out of poverty for Washingtonians living on low incomes, not systems that harm the people they exist to help.
What We’re Doing About It
Reinstating TANF Hardship Time Limit Exemptions to increase equity and ensure that all families that need help can receive it.
Reinstating the full Child Support Passthrough to ensure that child support payments to families on TANF go to children, not the state.
Increasing transparency of investigations conducted by the Office of Fraud and Accountability by asking the Department to regularly present data to the legislature including the racial demographics of people investigated.
Expanding access to the Working Families Tax Credit to all adults over the age of 18.
- Building a system based on support, not suspicion, where people can ask for and receive the help they need.
- Improve equity, access to, and transparency of safety net programs so that everyone can meet their basic needs.
- Transform cash assistance programs so that they work better for the people they are designed to help.