Welfare programs–Some basics

Four major means-tested programs (2011-13 figures)

Welfare program
No. current recipients (2011)
Avg. benefit / recipient / month
Annual outlays (2011)
SSI supplemental security income
1973 version replaced earlier versions, begun in 1930s
8.3 (million)
$554 in ’12
TANF temporary assistance to needy families
replaced AFDC in 1996; ADC in 1935
3.5 million/mo
$350 in
$13 billion (in 2011 budget)
EITC: earned income tax credit for working poor
created in 1975
28 million
$241 ($2,905/yr)
$59 billion in 2011
GA: general assistance
for needy not fitting other categories(childless couples, individuals)
1.4 (almost defunct now)
$190 ($2,280/yr)
$3 billion
38.6 million
$120 billion


SSI: Supplemental security income

  • Serves adults and children
  • Provides cash for food, clothing, shelter
  • Aged, blind, disabled–‘the worthy’
  • SSI varies by state (minimum federal baseline amounts are supplemented by many states)
  • This is the ‘deserving’ population . . . 1973 program replaced 2 separate programs with standardized eligibility tests and administration

TANF: temporary assistance for needy families

  • Cash assistance, temporary, plus other in-kind services
  • If you work: child care, child support enforced, medical coverage provided, if there is money available
  • 5 year lifetime limit; 2 years consecutive, then you need a job (varies by state)
  • states can exempt up to 20% of the population from the time limits
  • focus here on temporary–welfare as a transitory state
  • officially: provide assistance to needy families so children may be cared for in home or homes of relatives;
  • end dependency of needy parents on govt. benefits by promoting job prep., work and marriage
  • prevent/reduce incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies
  • encourage formation and maintenance of two-parent families
  • reducing rolls: TANF isn’t an adequate safety net
  • Benefits haven’t kept up with inflation

EITC: Earned income tax credit

  • Payment to working poor-subsidy of 40% on low wages-it’s applied to their tax liability-so they only get money back if the credit exceeds the liability (this graph should help understand)
  • Average credit for yr 2000 was about $1,500
  • 19 million households received EITCs in 2000
  • qualifications: money earned during year; qualifying child living in home; earned income less than $31,150 with more than one ‘qualifying’ child; those getting credit must have social security numbers; fraudulent claims will get you a ten year suspension from eligibility;
  • Above $12,500, the credit begins to decrease (disappears into 21% base tax rate)
  • encouraging people to work–here’s a question for you: is it a subsidy for workeres, or employers?

In-kind programs

These include food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, and nutrition programs like the federally subsidized programs we’ve talked about in the hunger project). Below are some data on these, it’s hard data to pull together, so pay attention as much to proportions as anything, and keep in mind those pie charts–which don’t change too much–that show discretionary budget categories.

no. recipients
avg. benefit / recipient / month
total annual cost (’09)
SNAP (supplemental nutrition assist.)
45 million) in ’11
$56 billion
62 million in ’11

$251 billion

housing assistance (HUD)
11 million
$21 billion
school lunch
31 million in ’10
$10.8 billion
WIC (women, infants and children)
9.2 million
$6.7 billion
$345.5 billion
source: U.S. Census Bureau, Office of Management and Budget

SNAP is a federal program we should all be pretty familiar with. Medicaid (called Oregon Health Plan here) is federally funded, but state-administered. As one of the brushes articles notes, there is a stigma associated with the use of Medicaid, and some physicians simply don’t accept Medicaid patients. Federal housing assistance is designed to reduce rent payments for people with low incomes. The in-kind programs often involve being put on waiting lists, and this can be one of the longer waits. There are public housing projects, public-assisted housing, and tenant-based assistance (tenant can choose his/her own place, provided the landlord will take the money–another ‘brushes’ experience). There are also federally-funded nutrition programs, which include WIC, for pregnant women and mothers of children under one year. There are food voucher programs, which we’ve discussed, school lunch programs, and commodity programs (where local food banks get much of their food, along with food drive contributions).

PRWORA (personal responsibility and work opportunity reconciliation act of 1996, i.e. welfare reform): Some provisions, key points:

  • Drafted and passed by Republican-controlled House of Representatives; signed by President Clinton;
  • Gave more power to states (‘devolution’); designed to keep more children in their own homes or with relatives (why?); focus on job preparation, work, and marriage; discouraged out of wedlock pregnancies (as opposed to, say, births?); encouraged formation of two-parent families
  • The current $300 million marriage promotion is an effort to apply funding to what has been an unfunded part of the 1996 legislation;
  • Block grants are federal funds administered by states; TANF is block grant-again, more devolution (further ‘federalizing’ AFDC);
  • Time limits: 60 months on cash assistance (states may reduce this); states can exempt up to 20% of recipients, and can continue beyond limits with their own funds (few reportedly do, however–have you checked out state budgets lately?);
  • Work requirements: after two years of cash assistance; states face financial penalties for not moving a certain percentage off of welfare–the key measure is reducing welfare rolls;
  • Family cap: families already receiving assistance will not gain new benefits with additional children–the underlying assumption being . . . ?

Some basic issues/questions

Sources of money

  • Public
  • Private
  • Non-profit (how raised?)

How administered (some of the more prominent services/agencies):

Type of assistance

  • Cash vs in-kind
  • Entitlement vs block grants


  • Means-tested vs insurance
  • Different populations (affirmative action, age-based, veterans, mothers, children, etc.)


USDA and food:

Food stamps, commodity surplus buyback, school lunches, senior vouchers, WIC, Meals on Wheels, (more locally) community garden, Haven from Hunger, food bank


HUD, housing vouchers, homeless shelters, Habitat for Humanity, VA, FHA

Health care

Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, VA, hospice, elderly, home health, much has changed since the Affordable Care Act (e.g., expansion of Medicaid)


Social security, SSI, workers’ compensation, unemployment

Cash, emergency assistance

  • TANF, GA, disaster relief (GA, or general assistance, which is a state-level program and pretty much goneout of funding)
  • EITC (working poor)
  • Soup kitchens, homeless shelters
  • Safe houses, shelters

Social services, safety/security

Parole/probation; prison programs; teen court/drug court; child protection, CASA, safehouses/shelters; mental health services,


Head Start, Special education, day care/residential programs (e.g., Grande Ronde Child Center), many resources for children’s programs


nursing homes, meals on wheels, assisted living,


Special education/special needs programs; Group homes for the developmentally delayed population; SSI;


Counseling, Substance abuse, parenting

Corporate welfare: Direct subsidies; Tax breaks


  • Child and adult protective services (DHS, Safe Centers, CASA)
  • Mental health services (therapy, substance abuse, counseling, CHD, RISE)
  • Social work programs (e.g., in schools)
  • People with disabilities (in La Grande—New Day, special ed)

Some trends: marriage, abstention, FBOs, welfare to work, cuts, devolution

  • below the poverty line,
  • victims of natural disasters,
  • refugees seeking asylum from political persecution,
  • migrant farm workers,
  • disabled persons,
  • the elderly,
  • parolees from corrections,
  • the unemployed,
  • people without housing,
  • children who’ve been removed from their homes,
  • AIDS patients,
  • victims of sexual assault / domestic violence
  • veterans of war

Some statistics

  • Total benefits from welfare programs (at federal level) by state, per person average
  • Benefits as percent of national personal income (18.3% in 2011)


  • DiNitto, Diana. 2003. Social Welfare: Politics and Public Policy (5th edition). Boston: Allyn and Bacon