State properly spends federal welfare funds on school programs
House Speaker Calvin Say has criticized the Lingle administration for spending federal welfare grant money on school programs.
THE Lingle administration is undergoing criticism from House Speaker Calvin Say for its flexible use of federal welfare grant money. Like it or not, such criticism should have ended two years ago when a federal audit found nothing improper about the way the money was being spent.
Gov. Linda Lingle said last week that $3.6 million in federal funds earmarked for assisting needy families will be spent on establishing academies within as many as eight schools to promote science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM disciplines. The money comes from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, formerly called Aid to Families with Dependent Children.
Two years ago, the Star-Bulletin shared concern with others about the expenditure of $513,000 of TANF grant money on anti-drug television and newspaper ads featuring Olympic decathlete Bryan Clay, singer Jasmine Trias and surfer Bethany Hamilton. To our surprise, the U.S. Department of Human Services completed an audit several months later determining that the expenditures were allowed under the broad federal guidelines.
This summer, TANF dollars were combined with contributions from local sponsors to pay for a Honolulu Symphony tour on the Big Island as part of its Music Education program to help third- to sixth-graders learn to read music and play recorders.
"Does that fit into the overall federal program for needy families?" Say asked concerning the STEM program. "Would resources such as food, shelter and clothing be a bigger priority for TANF funds? Would food stamps and health care be a priority?"
Lillian Koller, director of the state Department of Human Services, points out that TANF money cannot be spent on food stamps or medical expenses. It can be spent for cash assistance, job training and child care, and the vast bulk of the nearly $100 million that the state receives in TANF funds should and does go to those purposes.
An important function of fighting poverty should be to inspire children to prepare for successful careers, breaking the cycle of welfare assistance that has become a routine expectation in generations of too many families.
"We do that by having activities for young people, especially in neighborhoods and communities that are having economic challenges overall," Lingle said. She notes that the Legislature gave tacit approval of such an approach when it approved the formation of two STEM academies at two schools on Kauai.
The answer to Say's question is yes, such expenditures do fit into the overall program for needy families, as the federal government determined at the conclusion of its 2005 audit.