Perhaps I'm OCD, but I have a habit of reading reports from the Congressional Budget Office and the General Accountability Office. Actually, given what I generally find in these reports I'm more likely masochistic since they so often just flat make me angry. What follows below is an example. At first blush it seems like sort of a minor thing, but the more I think about it the more I think that it is one of the more insidious reminders of how we are systematically seeking to maintain an economic underclass.
As part of welfare reform in 1997 states were required to continue to provide a significant percentage of their historical contribution toward assistance to low-income families. The state component of the program is called maintenance-of-effort (MOE). According to a study released on August 17 by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for fiscal year 2011 the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grants provided $18 billion in federal block grants while the total for all state MOE was $15 billion. Whether the total $33 billion is adequate, and in my opinion it is not, was not part of the GAO study. However, what was part of the study and what should be alarming to any of us who still believe that government at all levels has a moral obligation to assist directly the less fortunate is that a progressively higher percentage of the MOE is coming from third party not-for-profit non-governmental agencies. This accounting method is permitted under the TANF legislation, but it may be getting out of hand. Third party, non-governmental expenditures were reported as part of their MOE by only 3 states in 2007, but by 13 states in fy 2011.
The percentage of the MOE attributed to non-governmental entities varied widely among the 13 states with a low of less than one percent to a high of nearly half of one state’s MOE. In-kind contributions such as food assistance, medical/dental services and family stabilization services were the most often sources of contributions to the MOE. Most of the states reported that because of economic hard times the ability to use non-governmental contributions toward the MOE will remain important in their ability to meet MOE requirements. I serve on the Health and Human Services Advisory Council for my county. One of our vital functions is to recommend disbursement of limited county funds to our local not-for-profits who serve the poor, homeless and disadvantaged. In this capacity I have seen our local homeless shelter, food banks and clinics consistently lose state support over the last 2 years.
I strongly believe that the ability of states to count expenditures by these non-governmental service agencies as part of the MOE is nothing more than a disingenuous way of reducing state support which ultimately reduces needed services for those at the bottom of the economic heap. It also does a disservice to those who work in the not-for-profit sector in that it uses their labor to undermine the very thing that labor is intended to accomplish.