Indicators of Welfare Dependence: 2008 Research Brief. Measuring Welfare Dependence


The Welfare Indicators Act specified that analyses of means-tested assistance should include benefits from the following three programs:

  1. The Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, the cash assistance program serving the largest number of persons, provided monthly cash benefits to families with children, until its replacement by the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which is operated directly by the states.
  2. The Food Stamp program provides monthly food stamp benefits to individuals living in families or alone if their income and assets are below limits set in Federal Law. It reaches more poor people over the course of a year than any other means-tested assistance program.
  3. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program provides monthly cash payments to elderly, blind, or disabled individuals or couples whose income and assets are below levels set in Federal Law.  Though a majority of recipients are adults, disabled children also are eligible.

Welfare dependence is a continuum with variations in degree and in duration.  Families may be more or less dependent if larger or smaller shares of their total resources are derived from welfare programs.  The amount of time over which families depend on welfare might also be considered in assessing their degree of dependence.  For the purposes of this report we adopt the following definition of welfare dependence:

Welfare dependence is the proportion of all individuals in families that receive more than half of their total family income in one year from AFDC/TANF, food stamps and/or SSI.

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