Human Rights Violations in DC, how can we confront them?

By David Schwartzman
Chair, Political Policy and Action Committee
DC Statehood Green Party
Member of ONE DC, Empower DC, Fair Budget Coalition
dschwartzman@gmail.com, 202-829-9063

“If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll even empty his pockets for you.” -Lyndon B. Johnson

"People who dismiss the unemployed and dependent as "parasites" fail to understand economics and parasitism.A successful parasite is one that is not recognized by its host, one that can make the host  work for it without appearing as a burden. Such is the ruling class in a capitalist society." -Jason Read, Professor of Philosophy, University of Southern Maine

The most serious human right violations in our DC community are:

  1. Homelessness and the big lack of affordable housing which forces many residents, especially low-income, to pay a high fraction of their income for housing thereby neglecting other essential needs of individuals and families, such as medicine and nutritious foods. (HUD criteria: housing is unaffordable if a household pays more than 30% of their income for rent or mortgage).
  2. Child poverty

Note: DC became the nation’s first Human Rights City in 2008, recognized officially by District government; go to http://afsc.org/resource/report-state-human-rights-dc for assessment reports of DC’s status.

ONE DC is on the frontlines fighting for affordable housing. Here is a proposal regarding eliminating child poverty. No child poverty in DC, let’s make this possible asap!
 
TANF income enhancement, a multi-year goal
Proposed goal: Make DC government increase the TANF income benefit over the next three fiscal years, reaching 100% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) by no later than FY 2021.

Why?
The poverty level of Income support for TANF is the main cause of child poverty in DC. The high level of child poverty in DC, especially in Wards 7 and 8, has a lasting negative impact on children and their families, indeed the whole DC community. Therefore, boosting the TANF income benefit should be a high priority for all concerned about human rights violations in our Human Rights City (footnotes 1 and 2).
 
The scheduled increase in the TANF income benefit in FY 2019 to 36% of the FPL, an increase from the present benefit of 30% FPL (footnote 3): this increase is already budgeted according to Kate Coventry, DCFPI.

Note: the income benefit as a percentage of the FPL in Maryland is now 38.1%, New York 46.4% with New Hampshire having the highest in the nation, 60.0% (footnote 4).

Most TANF recipients in New Hampshire are white. In New Hampshire the monthly income benefit for a family of three is $1,021, in DC it is now $508. Why should Black children receive one half the income benefit that white children in New Hampshire get?

The DC TANF income benefit has declined 21.5% since 1996 (corrected for inflation). The present TANF income benefit plus Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit is 56.4% of the FPL. Assuming the SNAP benefit stays constant, with the scheduled TANF income increase for FY 2019 the combined benefit will go to roughly 60% FPL. In New York the combined benefit is now 74% FPL, for New Hampshire it is 77%. (Source: footnote 4).

Of course boosting income security is necessary but not sufficient, complementary funding is imperative for universal child care, adult literacy, mental health and substance abuse, and of course job opportunities at living wages. Note that even with TANF income benefit at the FPL plus the SNAP benefit the overall income level would be significantly below the family income necessary to reach self-sufficiency in DC, roughly two to three times the FPL, given the high cost of living.

Reaching the FPL by FY 2021 will require a well-thought out strategy. ONE DC and its allies will have to confront head on the long-standing prejudice regarding TANF recipients which has served to divide the working/middle class community thereby serving the interests of the neoliberal agenda (trickle-down solutions, “education is the only answer to poverty” etc.) which has long dominated the policies of DC elected government.

Appendix
Estimate of funding required to bring TANF income benefit up to the Federal Poverty Level (FPL):
According to DCFPI (footnote 3) if the scheduled increase is funded in FY 2019 the DC monthly benefit for a family of 3 will be $644 corresponding to 36% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). Therefore this family of 3 would get $1,789/month at the Federal Poverty Level (644/0.36 = 1,789).   Assuming a total of 40,000 recipients (the 2011 level), and that all families correspond to 3 members (this is an approximation), there would be 13,300 families, each receiving an income benefit at the FPL, totaling $23.8 million/month or $286 million per year.  In FY 2015 the budget for income support was $70 million. With these assumptions, the increment in funding to reach the FPL will be approximately $216 million, not taking into account the change in the cost of living as well as potential decrease in the number of TANF recipients by FY 2021, pending the performance of complementary programs and economic conditions. This estimate is rather modest given the size of the DC budget, and if implemented would have a major impact towards reducing child poverty.

Footnotes
(1) http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/43-children-in-poverty-100-percent-poverty?loc=1&loct=2#detailed/2/2-52/true/870,573,869,36,868/any/321,322; https://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/news/housing-complex/blog/20835238/poverty-in-dc-is-getting-worseeast-of-the-anacostia-river-study-finds.
(2) https://www.dcfpi.org/all/when-every-dollar-counts-child-poverty-has-lasting-negative-effects-but-even-small-income-boosts-can-help/; Greg Duncan and Katherine Magnuson “The Long Reach of Early Childhood Poverty”, Pathways, Winter 2011.
(3) https://www.dcfpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/TANF-Toolkit-FY-2018-Approved.pdf.
(4) https://www.cbpp.org/research/family-income-support/tanf-cash-benefits-have-fallen-by-more-than-20-percent-in-most-states.