The Welfare Indicators Act of 1994 specifies that the annual welfare indicators reports shall include analyses of families and individuals receiving assistance under three means-tested benefit programs: the program of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) under part A of title IV of the Social Security Act (replaced with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996), the Food Stamp Program under the Food Stamp Act of 1977, as amended, and the Supplemental Security Income program under title XVI of the Social Security Act. This chapter includes information on these three programs, derived primarily from administrative data reported by state and federal agencies instead of the national survey data presented in previous chapters. National caseloads and expenditure trend information on each of the three programs is included, as well as state-by-state trend tables on each program and information on the characteristics of participants in each program.
Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) was established by the Social Security Act of 1935 as a grant program to enable states to provide cash welfare payments for needy children who had been deprived of parental support or care because their father or mother is absent from the home, incapacitated, deceased, or unemployed. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands operated an AFDC program. States defined "need," set their own benefit levels, established (within federal limitations) income and resource limits, and administered the program or supervised its administration. States were entitled to unlimited federal funds for reimbursement of benefit payments, at "matching" rates which were inversely related to state per capita income. States were required to provide aid to all persons who were in classes eligible under federal law and whose income and resources were within state-set limits.
During the 1990s, the federal government increasingly used its authority under Section 1115 of the Social Security Act to waive portions of the federal requirements under AFDC. This allowed states to test such changes as expanded earned income disregards, increased work requirements and stronger sanctions for failure to comply with them, time limits on benefits, and expanded access to transitional benefits such as child care and medical assistance. As a condition of receiving waivers, states were required to conduct rigorous evaluations of the impacts of these changes on the welfare receipt, employment, and earnings of participants.
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) eliminated the federal entitlement to cash assistance under AFDC, and replaced AFDC cash welfare and other related programs (AFDC administration, the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training (JOBS) program and the Emergency Assistance program) with a cash welfare block grant called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Key elements of TANF include a lifetime limit of five years (60 months) on the amount of time a family with an adult can receive assistance funded with federal funds, increasing work participation rate requirements which states must meet, and broad state flexibility on program design. Spending through the TANF block grant is capped and funded at $16.4 billion per year, slightly above fiscal year 1995 federal expenditures for the four component programs. States must also meet a "maintenance of effort (MOE) requirement" by spending on needy families at least 75 percent of the amount of state funds used in FY 1994 on these programs (80 percent if they fail work participation rate requirements).
TANF gives states wide latitude in spending both Federal TANF funds and state MOE funds. Subject to a few restrictions, TANF funds may be used in any way that supports one of the four statutory purposes of TANF: to provide assistance to needy families so that children can be cared for at home; to end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work and marriage; to prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies; and to encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.
Food Stamp Program
The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service, is the largest food assistance program in the country, reaching more poor individuals over the course of a year than any other public assistance program. Unlike many other public assistance programs, the Food Stamp Program has few categorical requirements for eligibility, such as the presence of children, elderly or disabled individuals in a household. As a result, the program offers assistance to a large and diverse population of needy persons, many of whom are not eligible for other forms of assistance.
The Food Stamp Program was designed primarily to increase the food purchasing power of eligible low-income households to the point where they can buy a nutritionally adequate low-cost diet. Participating households are expected to be able to devote 30 percent of their counted monthly cash income to food purchases. Food stamp benefits then make up the difference between the household's expected contribution to its food costs and an amount judged to be sufficient to buy an adequate low-cost diet. This amount, the maximum food stamp benefit level, is derived from USDA's lowest-cost food plan, the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP).
The Federal government is responsible for virtually all of the rules that govern the program, and, with limited variations, these rules are nationally uniform, as are the benefit levels. Nonetheless, States, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Virgin Islands, through their local welfare offices, have primary responsibility for the day-to-day administration of the program. They determine eligibility, calculate benefits, and issue food stamp allotments. The Food Stamp Act provides 100 percent federal funding of food stamp benefits. States and other jurisdictions have responsibility for about half the cost of state and local food stamp agency administration.
In addition to the regular Food Stamp Program, the Food Stamp Act authorizes alternative programs in Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa. The largest of these, the Nutrition Assistance Program in Puerto Rico, had an average of 1.2 million participants in 1988, funded under a Federal block grant of $1.2 billion. Unless noted otherwise, the food stamp caseload and expenditure data in this Appendix include costs for the Nutrition Assistance Program in Puerto Rico. Prior to 1982, the regular Food Stamp Program operated in Puerto Rico, under modified eligibility and benefit rules.
The Food Stamp Program has financial, employment/training-related and "categorical" tests for eligibility. The basic food stamp beneficiary unit is the "household." Generally, individuals living together constitute a single food stamp household if they customarily purchase food and prepare meals in common. Members of the same household must apply together, and their income, expenses, and assets normally are aggregated in determining food stamp eligibility and benefits. Except for households composed entirely of TANF, SSI, or general assistance recipients (who generally are automatically eligible for food stamps), monthly cash income is the primary food stamp eligibility determinant. Unless exempt, adult applicants for food stamps must register for work, typically with the welfare agency or a state employment service office. To maintain eligibility, they must accept a suitable job if offered one and fulfill any work, job search, or training requirements established by the administering welfare agencies.
Food stamp benefits are a function of a household's size, its net monthly income, its assets, and maximum monthly benefit levels. Allotments are not taxable and food stamp purchases may not be charged sales taxes. Receipt of food stamps does not affect eligibility for or benefits provided by other welfare programs, although some programs use food stamp participation as a "trigger" for eligibility and others take into account the general availability of food stamps in deciding what level of benefits to provide.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program is a means tested, federally administered income assistance program authorized by title XVI of the Social Security Act. Established in 1972 (Public Law 92-603) and begun in 1974, SSI provides monthly cash payments in accordance with uniform, nationwide eligibility requirements to needy aged, blind and disabled persons. To qualify for SSI payments, a person must satisfy the program criteria for age, blindness or disability. Children may qualify for SSI if they are under age 18, unmarried, and meet the applicable SSI disability or blindness, income and resource requirements. Individuals and couples are eligible for SSI if their countable incomes fall below the Federal maximum monthly SSI benefit levels, which were $504 for an individual and $751 for a couple in fiscal year 1999. SSI eligibility is restricted to qualified persons who have countable resources/assets of not more than $2,000, or $3,000 for a couple.
SSI law requires that SSI applicants file for all other money benefits for which they may be entitled. Since its inception, SSI has been viewed as the "program of last resort" — after evaluating all other income, SSI pays what is necessary to bring an individual to the statutorily prescribed income "floor." (The Social Security Administration, which administers the SSI program, works with recipients and helps them get any other benefits for which they are eligible.) As of December 1996, 37 percent of all SSI recipients also received Social Security benefits; Social Security benefits are the single highest source of income for SSI recipients.
No individual could receive both SSI payments and AFDC benefits; if eligible for both, the individual was required to choose which benefit to receive. Generally, the AFDC agency encouraged individuals to file for SSI and, once the SSI payments had started, the individual was removed from the AFDC filing unit. The PRWORA does not specifically prohibit an individual's receipt of both TANF benefits and SSI; states have complete authority to set TANF eligibility standards and benefit levels.
Except in California, which converted food stamp benefits to cash that is included in the State supplementary payment, SSI recipients may be eligible to receive food stamps. If all household members receive SSI, they do not need to meet the Food Stamp Program financial eligibility standards to participate in the program because they are categorically eligible. If SSI beneficiaries live in households where other household members do not receive SSI benefits, the household must meet the net income eligibility standard of the Food Stamp Program to be eligible for food stamp benefits.
1. In addition, IV-A child care administrative costs were included under AFDC, but are no longer counted under TANF, since these programs were moved to the Child Care and Development Fund as part of PRWORA.
2. States are allowed to use TANF funds on a variety of services, including employment and training services, domestic violence services, and child care, transportation, and other support services. Families receiving such services, however, should generally not be counted as recipients of TANF ‘assistance." Under the final regulations for TANF, "assistance" includes primarily payments directed at ongoing basic needs. It includes payments when individuals are participating in community service and work experience (or other work activities) as a condition of receiving payments (e.g., workfare). In addition to cash assistance, the definition also includes certain child care and transportation benefits (provided the families are not employed). It excludes, however, such things as: non-recurrent, short-term benefits; services without a cash value, such as education and training, case management, job search, and counseling; and benefits such as child care and transportation when provided to employed families.
3. By April 1, 1997, many states began removing legal immigrants who were receiving food stamps on August 22, 1996. Most states removed at least a portion of the childless 18-50 year olds on or around March 1, 1997.
4. On February 20, 1990, the Supreme Court ruled that the individual functional assessment (or a residual functional capacity assessment) applied to adults whose condition did not meet or equal a listing of medical impairments to determine eligibility should also be applied to children whose condition did not meet or equal the medical listing of impairments. The GAO study estimated that 87,000 children were added to the SSI caseload after the individual functional assessments for children were initiated.