by Courtney Dufries
The truth is, Americans are very generous people. We contribute collectively billions of dollars to charities every year, and untold amounts to friends, families and acquaintances who have apparent needs. We provide food, clothing, shelter, and health care when needed, and we do so without much hesitation. We not only help our fellow Americans, but we send money and other assistance around the world. We truly are a kind, caring people. However, none of us, regardless of ideology or political affiliation, want to see our donations wasted or our generosity directed to individuals who lack the motivation to help themselves.
Recent changes in our federal laws and regulations are directed at reducing the number of persons receiving government assistance. While previous programs did provide food, shelter, and other necessities, the increase in the number of people requesting assistance in various government programs is of concern to everybody, and attempts are now underway to ensure that all recipients of federal assistance have legitimate short-term needs, and that our program policies encourage people to help themselves as much as possible.
Partners looks at two federal programs that are undergoing radical changes in their approach to serving the poor. The most controversial is the elimination of the old Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, or AFDC. Politicians of both parties declared that by substituting AFDC with a new program, known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), the number of people requiring long-term federal government assistance would decline radically. And they placed significant program restrictions to ensure that this would occur.
While the fairness of both AFDC and TANF will likely be debated by social workers, academicians, and politicians for many years, the fact remains that changes are occurring rapidly, and the number of AFDC cases has begun to decline significantly. This article is intended to provide an overview of these important changes.
Equally important are changes in public housing programs. Anybody who has traveled through some of our District's distressed public housing communities can attest to the need for significant changes in our approach to providing shelter. Current programs renew the focus on reducing the density of public housing by encouraging mixed-income communities that combine health care, child care, and educational programs as needed. We can think of no better example of this transformation than two of the country's first public housing communities, Techwood Homes and Clark/Howell Homes, that have now been replaced with a brand new development called Centennial Place.
Inside Partners is an article on this transformation that could serve as a model for many communities throughout the country. A separate article on HOPE VI presents information on an effective federal program established to finance the design, demolition, and construction of these new developments.
Nonprofit organizations are well positioned to help meet social service needs and support components of public housing programs, and must be aware of the significant changes caused by the shift from AFDC to the new TANF. Although established with the best of intentions, these programs may cause inadvertent hardships that must be quickly addressed. And recipients of federal assistance may need the social support provided by nonprofit organizations to ensure a successful transition to the workforce.
Financial institutions, like all businesses, also have a vested interest as we transition to new community development programs. Besides the obvious quality of life improvements that will likely become apparent if the changes are successful, business opportunities are available to encourage greater participation in these government-sponsored programs. It takes leadership and commitment, but the rewards are certainly available through tax credits, loans, and investments.
We hope you enjoy this newsletter, and look forward to keeping you abreast of the programs and opportunities to serve our low- and moderate-income communities and to finance our nation's small businesses.