Iowa's Limited Benefit Plan. D. Decisions Regarding Welfare Participation


Entry into the LBP was a critical transition for the case-study families that led directly to the termination of their FIP cash assistance. As these families approached the end of their six-month period of ineligibility for cash assistance, they faced another key transition--would they reapply for FIP assistance or try to carry on without public assistance? This section examines their decisions regarding entry into the LBP and reapplication for FIP benefits.

1. Entry Into the LBP

Case-study parents described two different means by which they entered the LBP. Parents in five of the families told us that they voluntarily entered the LBP, while parents in the remaining seven families said that they were assigned to it as a consequence of noncompliance with PROMISE JOBS participation requirements. The case-study parents' attitudes are correlated with the means by which they entered the LBP. Parents who voluntarily entered the LBP have a sense of control over their lives and are hopeful about the future, while parents who were assigned to the LBP have less of a sense of control and are less optimistic.

The five parents who indicated that they had voluntarily entered the LBP all appeared to be committed to their choice not to rely on public assistance. They and their families struggled to make adjustments when FIP cash assistance ended, but their efforts were facilitated by support from extended family members and friends and by their expectation of a better future. These parents are characterized by self-confidence and the ability to plan for the future. One of these parents told us, "I chose to be on the LBP because I was tired of being on welfare. I was tired of waiting once a month for a check. I felt like DHS was trying to control me instead of helping me." Another parent who selected the LBP said, "I have a plan to finish school and go to work as a computer hardware technician. I do not ever want to return to FIP."

The attitude of the seven parents who indicated that they had been assigned to the LBP was different from the attitude of those who voluntarily entered it. The attitude of those who had been assigned to the LBP is characterized primarily by an absence of a sense of control over one's life. One of these seven parents told us that she was placed on the LBP because "PROMISE JOBS felt that I did not cooperate." She continued, "I was working, so I was doing what I was suppose to do according to my FIA. I called my worker several times to see why I was being cut off and he said, 'It was their [PROMISE JOBS's] mistake, but they could not do anything now.' " Several other parents in this group noted that they had wanted to attend college but had been told by their PROMISE JOBS caseworkers that there was not any money for college. Consequently, they concluded that they really had no choice but to sign their FIAs and identify employment as their goal. Another parent, who was assigned to the LBP due to her partner's noncompliance with PROMISE JOBS participation requirements, said, "I did everything right, but [my partner] did not. So, I was punished for what he did. I cannot control him."

2. Reapplying for FIP Cash Benefits

The case-study parents also differed sharply from one another in their thoughts about reapplying for FIP cash benefits. The dominant factors influencing their thoughts about this important step were the adequacy and stability of their current income and their feelings about being dependent on the public welfare system. Four of the 12 case-study parents did not plan to reapply for FIP cash benefits, 5 had started the reapplication process prior to their interviews, and 3 were uncertain whether they would reapply.

a. Not Reapplying

The four parents who were not intending to reapply for FIP benefits had all voluntarily entered the LBP and had either secured employment, stabilized their relationships with partners who were supporting them, or had decided that they did not want to deal with the system anymore. One of these parents, who appreciated the stability and frequency of her paychecks, told us, "I like knowing how much I can bring in each month. I am paid every two weeks, so it is not as long from one paycheck to the next [compared with the monthly FIP check]." Another parent focused on the advantages of being independent of the welfare system, saying, "I like being in control of what is coming into the house [income]. When I was on FIP, it was up to DHS to decide how much they think we need. Now, it is up to me." The income-stability and independence motivations to remain off of FIP are apparent in the comment of yet another parent in this group, "It is better being employed. We have more money now. The kids get more things now. My income is steady, and it is just a lot more than it was before when I was on FIP. I have more freedom, I have more money."

b. Reapplying

The five case-study parents who were reapplying for FIP cash benefits had all been assigned to the LBP. In general, their employment and income were inadequate and unstable. For them, the LBP was something that they were waiting out; that is, their goal was to survive the six months of no cash assistance and then return to FIP as soon as possible. As one of these parents said, "We have been getting by, but I am waiting for next week when I can reapply for benefits. I already have an appointment. I think we will qualify. After that things will be back on track." Another told us, "I'm just trying to get back on FIP again and trying to find odd jobs to pay my bills in the meantime."

c. Uncertain About Reapplying

The remaining three case-study parents had not yet decided whether to reapply for FIP cash benefits when we interviewed them. One of these parents had voluntarily entered the LBP, and other two had been assigned to it. These parents were trying to secure employment, and if they were successful, they would not reapply for FIP assistance. If they were unsuccessful, they saw no alternative to reapplying. One of these parents told us, "I lost my job because of a misunderstanding with my boss. I am trying to meet with him to talk about it. I hope I can get my job back. If I do, we will be all right [without FIP cash benefits]."