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Committee on Human Services Hearing on

B18-1061, District of Columbia Public Assistance Amendment Act of 2010


November 15, 2010
Oral Testimony of:
Amy Loudermilk, Senior Policy Specialist
DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence

DCCADV Opposes B18-1061, District of Columbia Public Assistance Amendment Act of


2010

Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today regarding the
District of Columbia Public Assistance Amendment Act of 2010. I am Amy Loudermilk, Senior
Policy Specialist at the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence (“The Coalition”).1
We recognize Councilmember Barry’s intent to continue the critical dialogue regarding
breaking the cycle of generational poverty by, in part, improving the District’s Temporary
Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) system. However, the Coalition strongly opposes this
legislation, which will disproportionately negatively impact victims of domestic violence, their
children, and individuals living in poverty. We strongly support the testimony of the DC Fiscal
Policy Institute which provides greater context regarding the effect this bill will have on those in
poverty.

Intersection of Domestic Violence and TANF in the District of Columbia

Creating the TANF program in 1996, the federal government gave specific recognition to
the unique challenges and barriers faced by victims of domestic violence, and therefore
established the Family Violence Option Waiver (FVO).2 All 50 states adopted the FVO, which
provides victims a waiver from certain TANF program requirements if participation would make it
more difficult for them to escape from family violence.3 The FVO recognizes that victims face
significant, unique barriers to employment and that a victim should never be penalized for
prioritizing the safety of herself and her children. The District also adopted regulations which
allow victims an extension to the time limit on receipt of benefits after they received a FVO

1
The federally designated umbrella organization for the District of Columbia's dedicated domestic
violence service providers, DCCADV offers leadership and programming for today and support, education
and advocacy to shape a violence-free future for families in DC. DCCADV's programming includes:
Community Outreach and Education, Public Awareness, Public Policy Leadership, Technical Assistance,
Membership Support, Training, and Victim Relief Resources.
2
Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, P.L. 104-193.
3
D.C. Code § 4-205.19b (d).

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waiver.4 Notably, the proposed Act eliminates this life-saving protection for victims, contrary to
long-standing District policy.
All individuals applying for TANF are required to be screened for domestic violence and
referred to services and/or further assessed for the applicability of the FVO as appropriate.
However, national and local studies have revealed that all too often applicants are not being
properly screened for domestic violence and the FVO is woefully underutilized. We know that
one out of every four women will experience domestic violence at some point in her lifetime;
meaning as many as 75,000 women alone in the District may be victims. However, in 2008,
only one TANF recipient received the FVO. Just last week, Director Carter testified before the
Council that of more than 17,000 current TANF recipients, only 15 people have received the
FVO this year5,6 This is less than .0001% of the current caseload. Research reveals a troubling
discrepancy between the number of victims of domestic violence TANF caseworkers report and
the actual number of victims researchers indicate participate in the program. In 2009 a study by
the DC Fiscal Policy Institute and So Others Might Eat (SOME), caseworkers reported that 5-
10% of their clients were victims; researchers found that, in fact, 20-30% of those clients were
victims.7 This illustrates the need for serious systemic reforms in the screening and referral of
victims of domestic violence.

A Better Way to Move Recipients to Self-Sufficiency

The Department of Human Services (DHS), which oversees the Income Maintenance
Administration (IMA), has acknowledged the shortcomings and failures of the existing TANF
screening and assessment process. As such, DHS has recently undertaken exhaustive reform
of the TANF system to improve outcomes for recipients. Recently, DHS held a series of
roundtable forums with advocates to generate discussion and ideas for improving support
services and job training provided by vendors. DHS has instituted improvements in the
contracts for service vendors, and is currently redesigning the application and assessment
process for TANF applicants to better detect and refer individuals to services to alleviate
barriers to work.

4
D.C. Municipal Regulations § 29-5840.
5
Voices for Change: Perspectives on Strengthening Welfare-to-Work From DC TANF Recipients, DC Fiscal Policy
Institute & So Others Might Eat, 2009.
6
Department of Human Services, November 8, 2010.
7
Voices for Change: Perspectives on Strengthening Welfare-to-Work from DC TANF Recipients, DCFPI & SOME,
2009.

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The Department’s recent efforts are commendable and demonstrate a commitment to
thoughtfully and responsibly improving the District’s welfare system to ensure more families
receive the services needed to reach economic independence while mitigating harmful
unintended consequences of reform. By contrast, the proposed legislation is premature and
misdirected. It is contrary to long-standing District standards to penalize victims of domestic
violence and other TANF recipients assessed for severe barriers to work at the sixty month
mark, when we still have a system that fails to adequately notify the vast majority of their rights
and responsibilities. This legislation will sever a critical source of income for victims of domestic
violence fleeing abuse, quickly compounding their problems and forcing the expenditure of
millions more city dollars in health care and other social services. We should instead allow DHS
time to finalize and implement their current reform efforts. We can then assess their impact by
evaluating the rate of recipients transitioning off TANF and determine what further reforms are
necessary and appropriate.

Conclusion

The Coalition shares the Council’s desire to break the generational cycle of poverty and
make meaningful reforms to the existing TANF system. However, this legislation will have the
opposite effect, further jeopardizing the safety and opportunity for economic independence for
countless victims of domestic violence. This is even more concerning as we face the imminent
depletion of local funding to support the fragile safety net for victims and their children, which
makes the lifeline of TANF support all that much more critical. For all of these reasons, we
respectfully ask the Council to table the bill. Thank you for the opportunity to speak today and
for your consideration of the needs of victims of domestic violence. I am happy to respond to
questions.