Setting the Baseline: A Report on State Welfare Waivers. Section 7: Variations in the Unemployed Parent Program


AFDC Requirement: In order to be eligible for AFDC, a child had to be "deprived" of parental support, generally either by the death or prolonged absence of a parent, or in two-parent families by unemployment of the "principal earner." Unemployment was defined as being employed less than 100 hours in a month (or more if the work was intermittent and the excess was of a temporary nature). Moreover, the principal earner had to show labor force attachment: by having 6 or more quarters of work (participation in education and training could count for up to four quarters, at state option) in any 13-calendar-quarter period ending within one year before application for assistance; or by being eligible for unemployment compensation within one year of application. The principal earner must also have been unemployed for at least 30 days prior to receipt of aid. These restrictions were designed to avoid diverting able-bodied workers from the labor market.

Waivers: States believed that the restrictions on provision of AFDC to families with two parents in the household sometimes had the perverse effect of encouraging families to break up or not to form, because some ineligible impoverished two-parent households would be eligible for the basic (single parent) AFDC program if the father left the household. In addition, once a family qualified for the AFDC-UP (Unemployed Parent) program, the primary earner would be discouraged from taking a low-wage job, since if he worked 100 hours per month, the family would lose eligibility for assistance, even if he was not making very much money.

For these reasons, many states requested and received waivers of some of the restrictions on the AFDC-UP program. As shown on Table VII, 37 states received waivers of the 100-hour rule, 24 states received waivers of the labor force attachment requirement, and 17 states received waivers of the 30-day waiting period. A few states received waivers of the definition of the principal earner. Together, these were the most common AFDC waivers granted.

Until October 1, 1990, the provision of AFDC to families with an unemployed parent was optional. States which did not have AFDC-UP programs in effect at the time the law mandating the unemployed program was enacted were given the option of limiting assistance to as little as six months in a 12-month period. Table VII also shows which states opted to time-limit assistance under the AFDC-UP program 

TANF Provision: TANF does not require that children be deprived of parental support in order to be eligible for assistance. States may choose whether to provide assistance to two-parent families under the same eligibility criteria as single-parent families, or to apply additional restrictions.