Indicators of Welfare Dependence: 2005 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 Stamps Program provides monthly food stamp benefits to individuals living in families or alone, provided 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, like poverty, 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. Although recognizing the difficulties inherent in de.ning and measuring dependence, a bipartisan Advisory Board on Welfare Indicators proposed the following definition, as one measure to examine in concert with other key indicators of dependence and well-being:

A family is dependent on welfare if more than 50 percent of its total income in a one-year period comes from AFDC/TANF, food stamps and/or SSI, and this welfare income is not associated with work activities. Welfare dependence is the proportion of all families who are dependent on welfare.

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