DC to provide 15,000 needy families with $1,000 payments

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About 15,000 low-income DC families will receive a $1,000 payment before the end of the month to help with expenses for the upcoming school year, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced Thursday.

Bowser said the one-time payments are intended to offer another layer of support for families enrolled in the city’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which provides monthly cash assistance and other benefits to low-income households with children in the District. As she walked through possible ways families might choose to spend the $1,000 — on uniforms, haircuts, shoes or other supplemental supplies for school and extracurricular activities — Bowser emphasized that the recipients can spend the money however they see fit.

“Quite frankly, they may need a family night out, and that’s okay,” Bowser said at a news conference at the Frederick Douglass Community Center in Ward 8. “Sometimes in government, we spend a lot of time on rules and regulations that create red tape that slow down payments and don’t let families make decisions about what’s really necessary for their kids.”

The payments were made possible by money the city received through the Pandemic Emergency Assistance Fund, a federal program for US states and jurisdictions to provide aid and boost benefits for low-income families who have been hit hardest during the public health crisis.

Laura Zeilinger, director of the DC Department of Human Services, said the TANF households won’t need to take any action to receive the payment — the $1,000 will be transferred automatically to each family’s benefits card ahead of September.

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The TANF benefit is one of several new ways DC is aiming to support students ahead of the school year: On Monday, Bowser called on city businesses to host high school interns as part of a program to help students build career skills. And in July, Bowser said the city would provide $41 million in food assistance to 81,000 children who would normally receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year, as part of an expanded effort to supply them with nutritious food options.

“When we’re under a tremendous amount of stress, like, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to pay my bills’ or, ‘My kids’ shoes don’t fit and they need shoes for gym class’ … when you’re under that kind of stress, it affects everybody’s brains,” Zeilinger said. “Part of the reason to make sure people have resources is to decrease the scarcity, decrease the stress, so you can do the things you need to do as parents.”

During the pandemic, DC lawmakers have increasingly explored ways to provide direct financial benefits to low-income residents. In January, Bowser announced a $1.5 million cash assistance program for new and expectant mothers in Wards 5, 7 and 8, offering monthly $900 payments over a year. A DC Council measure passed last year established trust funds for certain needy children in the District, which they will be able to access after turning 18.

Pointing again to the stress experienced by many parents dealing with financial uncertainty, Zeilinger on Thursday tried to dispel a stigma she says is often attached to families enrolled in TANF or other financial assistance programs.

“There are far too many people out there who believe if you’re receiving TANF you must not want to work, you’re not hustling hard enough,” she said. “We have to start telling true stories about what people are facing, and the ways that they’re making it work — and the way they’re prioritizing their children — with the resources they have.”

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