The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which in 1996, replaced standard welfare’s food stamp portion of in-kind benefits, is a program that is designed to give temporary assistance to families who find financial hardship until they are able to improve their circumstances (Hirschl & Rank, 1999). The stigma of receiving benefits has decreased in the first five to seven years, since the beginning of the recession. With unemployment escalating, and many people running out of unemployment benefits before finding new employment, the stigma that had been attached to receiving food stamps is lessening. Food stamps are becoming acceptable as a means of need among people who had considered themselves to be middle-class a decade ago. There is still a stigma associated with receiving public assistance, but it is rural residents who tend to view recipients as dishonest and lazy. People in the suburbs are now seeing receiving assistance as a temporary need to get by and see it as using the system for what it was designed (Guo, 2011).
The goal of the food stamp program was intended to be simple. To give supplemental in-kind support, money to individuals and families that does not count as income and does not need to be repaid, that can only be used to buy food. This was supposed to enable people to purchase food so that they could eat healthy, nutritious meals and eat a well-balanced diet. Tis well- balanced diet would lead to people having better health, fewer incidents of obesity, better oral health, less severe medical issues, and better attendance at work and school. Instead, people receiving food stamps buy the most processed foods, the most junk food, the most sugar-filled beverages, and the fewest fresh, canned, or frozen fruits and vegetables (Nestle, 1999).
Food stamp benefits are based on the United States poverty index and the index is adjusted annually. Although there is a slight variance, eligibility is generally determined that a family can have an income between 200% - 225% of the federal poverty guide and still qualify for TANF benefits. The benefits are given on a sliding scale, meaning that the less income and the larger a family is, the more TANF support the family receives. Migrant farm workers are eligible for benefits in the states in which they are working. Foster children are eligible for benefits as well, the amount is income sensitive.
The United States federal government pays for the benefits that people receive under the TANF program. This program will cost the taxpayers about $16.5 billion just in 2011 (Gao, 2011). People receive their benefits at the beginning of each month through a preloaded card, much like a debit card. It is swiped at the register and a pin number is used, as people use a debit card to pay. This system was enacted in the 1990s to reduce the stigma that was attached to the use of the paper food coupons that people had used at the register. The card system is supposed to be more discrete. It also enables people to mix their food and non-food items at most stores, like other shoppers do, and if needed, pay part TANF benefits and part cash or other payment method for their purchase. The government tried to reduce as many of the stigmas as possible for the people that were receiving government assistance when they were shopping. This was done to encourage more people who were eligible to receive benefits, but were not doing so because they were embarrassed, to enroll. This was done so that those in need of the program would participate and consume a healthier diet with the increased support in their grocery budget (Nestle, 1999).
The program is overseen by the government agency Aid to Families with Dependent Children, a subsidiary of the Department of Public Welfare. In general, every county or parish in every state or commonwealth has a local office which oversees the residents of the geographic location. Usually, each family has a case worker who is also responsible of ensuring that if the family qualifies for other services as well, that they are made aware of it. Some of these services may include heating assistance, health insurance, and child care so adults in the home can work. A county care worker can be an essential person to help a family coordinate services and learn how to use the system in a way to eventually become independent and self-sufficient (Sawicky, 2003).
History of the Problem
In 1935, as a part of the reforms that swept the nation during the Great Depression, and as a part of the Social Security Act, the Aid to Dependent Children, later renamed the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) is founded as a federal system of cash payments that go to the single mothers of young children. In 1964, Congress passed the Food Stamps Act, which replaced the former act and focused on families meeting their nutritional needs. In 1967, The Work Incentive Program (WIP) is created by Congress, which made children who were not in schools and adults from receiving payments from AFDC unless they either accepted employment or participated in job training programs. The Supreme Court, in 1968, in the case of King v. Smith, ruled that single mothers could be considered heads of households and those families could be eligible for welfare. 368,000 additional families qualified for benefits. In the same year, in the case of Goldberg v. Kelly, the court ruled that notice needed to be given to families if their benefits were going to be terminated and there needed to be an appeals process.
The earned Income Tax Credit was enacted by Congress in 1975. If the tax credit exceeds the tax liability, a check for the difference is issued. The Physician Task Force on Hunger issues a report that because of the food stamp program and other government in-kind benefits, hunger and malnutrition are no longer considered to be severe problems for the poorest Americans. The Center on Social Welfare Policy and Law reported in 1984 that about two-thirds of the denials for benefits that have been issued to families were incorrect.
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 remains one of the biggest factors in welfare reform today. In general, entitlements are capped at two consecutive years and five lifetime years. The support for these limitations was enacted because many argued that the cash assistance that was given to women encouraged them to not seek work. Being employed had the costs of clothing, travel, and child care which these women did not encounter while staying at home, so they were, in effect, saving money by not working. Additionally, many of the jobs the women were offered did not include health care, but while on welfare they did have health insurance.
The PRWORA did include a hardship exemption, which many people are using today during this period of high unemployment. This enables states to offer 20 percent of their caseload from the time limit exemption. If participants are caring for disabled or elderly family members, or young children, this exemption can also be granted. Also, GED programs would help those who have not earned one and job training programs would be beneficial for those who lack employable skills. These training and education hours could be in lieu of work hours while still receiving benefits. Offering child-care during these hours would increase the potential participation rates (Seefeldt & Orzol, 2005).
There are states that have also placed limits on the benefits given once they start being received. For instance, a mother of two would not have her benefits or time increased if she has an additional child. Other states provide completely subsidized child care and health insurance for up to three years when the adults in the home return to work if there is no employer sponsored health insurance program. This is especially helpful if the adults need to take two part-time jobs instead of one full-time job, which is increasingly common. There are even programs that help with the transportation costs. Cab fare is paid for up to 90 days while participants look for a car. Then, up to a thousand dollars is given directly to the person selling the car and the title is given to the participant, provided they can prove that there is insurance for the vehicle. This is critical for people that do not live in an urban environment where public transportation may not be available. States are coming up with creative ways to assist recipients to become workers.
Most of the recipients of welfare are women. The problems they face usually include lack of education, the need for health insurance, transportation, and childcare. By being able to address these two problems, many of them can fulfill the requirements of PRWORA. As demonstrated in the previous paragraph, these problems do have solutions, but the solutions are expensive. Perpetually being on welfare is more expensive. By making the investment earlier rather than later and solving the issues faced by these women, the welfare rolls can be reduced even more than they have been (Coffin, 2007).
The unintended effects of the original food stamp program were a generational reliance on the program, as a way of life, by some participants. This stigma became attached to those who received benefits, even on a temporary basis. But there were generations of families, usually headed by young mothers, who were second, and third generation recipients of welfare. There was a lack of education, which led to an inability to get a job that paid enough to make it worthwhile to go out and earn a living. With public housing, cash assistance, and food stamps, families learned how to get by without earned income. It was their way of life. These were the generational recipients of able-bodied recipients that the lifetime restrictions were implemented to end.
Using food stamps as they were intended, as a temporary need, a temporary way to get by when assistance is needed was the original intent in the 1930s and remains the intent of the program today. Using the benefits while earning employment credentials would be a beneficial way to earn benefits and learn to be self-sufficient. Offering the temporary benefits to adults in need during a temporary time of difficulty would be if substance abuse treatment were being sought. These adults are also seeking to better themselves and trying to improve themselves to be able to obtain and maintain employment in the future. The immediate assistance may help that possibility become a reality. It is better to invest in short-term treatment than to extend benefits over a lifetime (Seefeldt & Orzol, 2005).
Social work is heavily tied to food stamp recipients. Every recipient has a story as to how they got to the point that they are requesting government assistance to meet two of their three basic essentials of life, food and water. Many times, because food is one of the essential elements of life, this is a need that is sought out first, when in fact there are many other needs that need to be met. A county assistance office should have at the very least the literature available for a visitor to see what types of additional resources are potentially available that can assist them when they come in seeking food assistance.
Some of the essential programs that the county assistance office should have available for visitors to be educated about include domestic abuse assistance, medical care coverage, heating and electrical assistance, head start programming, behavioral management for children, mental health services, and language interpretation. At the initial intake, a social worker should develop a rapport with the visitor, now client, and ensure that the guest knows that all of these services are offered and try and see if any of them are necessary in each situation.
The initial interview can be especially stressful for the client. As a social worker, it is important to gather all of the necessary information, be detailed, and ensure that everything is accurate. It is essential that nothing is overlooked, because if the client is eligible for benefits, it is the job of the social worker to ensure that they are received. At the same time, if the information is entered incorrectly, and the client is mistakenly granted benefits, it is fraud. As a government representative, it is essential the right information is received, entered, and judgment given.
It is also essential to ask all of the necessary questions to endure that there is no information missing. If there is, the client needs to be clear exactly what is needed, by when and to where that information needs to be brought or sent. The client also needs to be aware of what happens if the deadlines are not met, which is often that the application is closed.
After the client’s initial requests are met, it is the job of the social worker to explore any other programs for which the client or other household members may be eligible and present them to the client. Additionally, again the client needs to be instructed what needs to be done in each case to try and see if eligibility for each program is possible and about any additional documentation that is needed.
In some areas, it can be at the same intake interview that potential job or career training or educational courses can be discussed, child care situations discussed, and steps talked about to make headway to getting off of the roles. In other areas referrals to the corresponding agencies can be made at this time. Yet, in others, there are mandatory follow-up interviews to handle these matters. It should be stressed to the client initially any time limits and restrictions that may be in place so that they are ware from the outset of any limitations and restrictions that exist and can account for these as they perhaps try to set a plan for their future (Johnston, 2010).
The steps of term limits for welfare reform were steps in the right direction. As they were enacted, states found that there were many problems and many different solutions were made to try and counteract these problems. States should be more active in working together to try and find out what has worked, what has not, and to try and develop more comprehensive plans. The answers to fixing these problems are expensive. They are only a fraction of the cost; however, of doling out in-kind benefits for unlimited years to people that do have the ability to work. By working on issues such as child-care, transportation, job-training, education, medical insurance, and other out-of-pocket expenses that adults returning to work face when they leave the welfare system, and by being more proactive in setting and enforcing limits, as well as ensuring that there is a support system in place, headed by trained professionals, such as social workers, welfare reform can work and can return to the short-term safety net it was meant to be when it was initiated almost eighty year ago.
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