Participation in Public Assistance Programs

  • What it really means to rely on food stamps and welfare, By Emily Badger, May 29, 2015, Washington Post: “Public dependence isn’t a permanent condition, although we often talk about people in need of government aid as if they constitute some kind of fixed class — as if welfare recipients have always needed welfare, as if the families on food stamps today are exactly the same ones on food stamps a decade ago.  The reality is that Americans who need government aid, like Americans living below the poverty line, represent a shifting population…”
  • 1 in 5 Americans receive government assistance: food stamps, welfare, Medicaid details, By Rich Exner, May 28, 2015, Cleveland Plain Dealer: “One in five Americans received monthly assistance from at least one of a variety of government programs throughout  2012, a report issued Thursday by the Census Bureau says. The report estimated that 52.2 million Americans — or 21.3 percent of the people in the United States — received assistance each month during 2012…”
  • Census: No. of Americans on assistance may be leveling off, By Jesse Holland (AP), May 28, 2015, Lexington Herald-Leader: “The once-increasing number of Americans getting some kind of public assistance from the U.S. government may be slowing down, according to new information from the U.S. Census Bureau. Approximately 52.2 million Americans — or 21.3 percent — participated in one or more of six poverty assistance programs on average each month in 2012, a new Census report released Thursday said. Although higher than the 20.9 percent found in 2011, government officials said the 2012 number is not a statistically significant change from the previous year’s.

Children’s Supplemental Security Income Program

Aid to disabled children now outstrips welfare, By Patricia Wen, August 28, 2014, Boston Globe: “A controversial federal benefits program provided about $20 billion to low-income families with disabled children over the last two years, quietly eclipsing traditional welfare programs to become the biggest source of monthly cash for the nation’s poorest families, new data shows. The dramatic growth of the children’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program has led some researchers to suggest it has simply replaced welfare as a primary source of cash for many families who lost benefits due to the much-touted welfare reforms of the mid-1990s. The expansion also comes amid a growing recognition among lawmakers and policy analysts that children’s disabilities, especially harder-to-assess ones like ADHD, have become a gateway to receive the best government cash benefits available today, and this trend deserves closer study…”

Homeless Advocacy Project – Philadelphia, PA

Pa. cuts funding for Phila. program for the disabled homeless, By Alfred Lubrano, August 24, 2012, Philadelphia Inquirer: “The Corbett administration has cut funding for a Philadelphia program nationally lauded as the ‘gold standard’ for helping disabled homeless people get federal benefits. On May 31, the state’s Department of Public Welfare gave Philadelphia’s Homeless Advocacy Project one month’s notice that it was eliminating $722,000 used to help obtain Supplemental Security Income (SSI) money for homeless or near-homeless people who had exceeded their five-year limit for welfare benefits. Many of the people don’t have the mental capacity to work. SSI provides disability income and benefits. The Department of Public Welfare made the cut because the state is ‘reprioritizing’ funding toward programs that emphasize work, DPW spokeswoman Carey Miller said. By taking money from the Homeless Advocacy Project, ‘we will be able to focus better on job placement and retention,’ Miller said…”

Public Assistance Reporting Information System

Computer matching system could limit safety net ‘double dipping’, By Pamela M. Prah, April 12, 2012, “States could cut costs by millions of dollars a year if they took full advantage of a computerized matching system that can determine whether people are getting welfare, food stamps and other public assistance in more than one state at a time. States that have used the system in recent years have collectively saved more some $400 million, according to federal figures. But here’s the rub. The arrangement is still largely voluntary. The process, called Public Assistance Reporting Information System (PARIS), is a set of computer matches that relies on Social Security numbers and other personal data. It allows states to see if individuals on their rolls for Medicaid, food stamps, welfare, childcare benefits or workers’ compensation are also on the rolls in another state…”

State Budget Cuts and Disability

  • NH joins Idaho in new welfare limits for disabled, By Norma Love (AP), February 19, 2012, Idaho Statesman: “Legally blind since she was 9, Chrissy Fairbanks just got word she’s losing the $363 state welfare check she got each month from New Hampshire because she gets federal assistance due to her disability. The 31-year-old Keene resident says her girls, ages 11 and 12, are taking the news well that their clothes will come from the clearance rack and there will be no more trips to the ice skating rink. ‘I already sat down with the girls and told them we were going to have a budget cut. The grabbing something to eat when we go out walking isn’t going to happen,’ she said. Of the 5,600 New Hampshire families that receive state welfare assistance, Fairbanks is among 1,136 families who will lose that aid because the state is counting Supplemental Security Income for residents too disabled to work in calculating their welfare grant. Another 420 people will receive reduced welfare benefits as a result, said state Family Assistance Director Terry Smith…”
  • Lawmakers urged to revoke 20 percent pay cut on personal care assistants, By Elizabeth Dunbar, February 17, 2012, Minnesota Public Radio: ” Some personal care assistants in Minnesota are urging lawmakers to revoke a new law that cuts their pay by 20 percent. More than 17,000 Minnesotans with disabilities rely on personal care assistants to help them with everyday tasks like eating and getting dressed. In about a third of the cases, family members are paid to provide this care to their adult relatives. To help balance the state’s budget last year, the Legislature reduced personal care assistant wages paid to family members. A judge has temporarily blocked the cut. But personal care assistants say lawmakers still need to find a permanent fix…”

Supplemental Security Income

Benefits for severely disabled children scrutinized, By Jenny Gold, August 18, 2011, National Public Radio: “To those who believe the federal Supplemental Security Income program for severely disabled children is a lifesaver and not a boondoggle, Hulston Poe is a great example. The 4-year-old was diagnosed with severe ADHD last October, after more than a year of violent temper tantrums, and kicked out of preschool. Case workers said there wasn’t much they could do for him. ‘We were at a standstill,’ says his mother, Suzanne Poe, who was scraping by as a single parent of two in Des Moines, Iowa. Then doctors recommended that she enroll her son in the SSI program this year, and everything changed. A monthly check of $674 helps pay for Hulston’s day care, a private tutor and medicines. Perhaps most importantly, the program made Hulston newly eligible for Medicaid, the joint state-federal health insurance program for the poor. He gained access to the doctors he needed…”

SSI Program Enrollment

Disability program, concerns on rise, By Patricia Wen, July 11, 2011, Boston Globe: “A federally run children’s disability program whose enrollment practices are already the subject of a congressional investigation grew by 3 percent over the past year and is now estimated to cost about $10.3 billion annually. Statistics released last week by the Social Security Administration, at the request of The Boston Globe, showed that at the end of last year, 1.24 million indigent children received up to $700 a month in cash benefits from its children’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, compared with slightly fewer than 1.2 million recipients the year before. The youngsters who qualify based on behavioral, mental, or learning disorders grew by 7.2 percent, more than twice the overall rate, and represent 55 percent of all children’s SSI cases. The two largest mental impairment categories – attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and speech delay – grew by 6 and 12 percent, respectively. The third-largest such category is children who qualified based on autism spectrum disorder, and that grew by 13 percent in the past year…”

Supplemental Security Income Program – Massachusetts

SSI program is flawed, chief says, By Patricia Wen, May 24, 2011, Boston Globe: “The commissioner of the Social Security Administration for the first time publicly acknowledged yesterday that there are major flaws with the $10 billion children’s disability program his agency oversees and said he was aggressively seeking congressional approval to conduct an independent scientific study of the program’s weaknesses. In an extensive interview at the Globe, Michael Astrue said that such a study, which would cost about $10 million, could provide a dispassionate, scientific basis for changing aspects of the children’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, which can be overhauled only by congressional decree…”

Boston Globe Series on Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

The Other Welfare, series homepage, Boston Globe: “The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program for children was created mainly for those with severe physical disabilities. But the $10 billion in federal benefit checks now goes primarily to indigent children with behavioral, learning and mental conditions. Qualifying is not always easy — many applicants believe it is essential that a child needs to be on psychotropic drugs to qualify. But once enrolled, there is little incentive to get off. And officials rarely check to see if the children are getting better…”

  • A legacy of unintended side effects, By Patricia Wen, December 12, 2010, Boston Globe: “Geneva Fielding, a single mother since age 16, has struggled to raise her three energetic boys in the housing projects of Roxbury. Nothing has come easily, least of all money. Even so, she resisted some years back when neighbors told her about a federal program called SSI that could pay her thousands of dollars a year. The benefit was a lot like welfare, better in many ways, but it came with a catch: To qualify, a child had to be disabled. And if the disability was mental or behavioral – something like ADHD – the child pretty much had to be taking psychotropic drugs. Fielding never liked the sound of that. She had long believed too many children take such medications, and she avoided them, even as clinicians were putting names to her boys’ troubles: oppositional defiant disorder, depression, ADHD. But then, as bills mounted, friends nudged her about SSI: ‘Go try.’ Eventually she did, putting in applications for her two older sons. Neither was on medications; both were rejected. Then last year, school officials persuaded her to let her 10-year-old try a drug for his impulsiveness. Within weeks, his SSI application was approved…”
  • A coveted benefit, a failure to follow up, By Patricia Wen, December 13, 2010, Boston Globe: “Her toddler was adorable and rambunctious, but his vocabulary was limited to ‘Mommy’ and ‘that,’ while other children his age knew dozens of words. When little Alfonso tried a full sentence it came out in a swirl of sounds, often followed by a major league tantrum when he realized he was not understood. And so his mother, Roxanne Roman, was not surprised when the 18-month-old was diagnosed by a specialist with speech delay. It came as a shock, however, when she learned from relatives that Alfonso’s problem might qualify him for thousands of dollars in yearly disability payments through the federal Supplemental Security Income program. For Roman, pregnant with her second child at age 17 and living at her mother’s, the extra income was attractive. She wanted to rent her own place. Within three months, the boy’s application was approved. Alfonso receives $700 in monthly cash benefits, plus free government-paid medical coverage. Roman said her relatives told her she can pretty much count on the disability checks for Alfonso, now 5, to keep arriving in the mailbox for the rest of his childhood…”
  • A cruel dilemma for those on the cusp of adult life, By Patricia Wen, December 14, 2010, Boston Globe: “Bianca Martinez is 15 and has a dream, to work someday as an animation artist, preferably in Japan, a country she has been fixated on for years. But for now the idea of getting any kind of paid job, even at the Holyoke Mall, where many of her teenage friends work, worries her because of what she might lose: Her $600-a-month federal disability check, which represents more than half her family’s income. ‘That’s why I’m not working this summer,’ said Martinez, a freshman at Holyoke High School who is being treated for ADHD and depression. ‘If I work and I get a certain amount, then they’ll take money away from my mom. She needs it. I don’t want my mom’s money to go down.’ Tens of thousands of teenagers who receive disability checks through the $10 billion federal Supplemental Security Income face this same painful dilemma: They are old enough to accept part-time jobs, but they worry that the extra income will be detected by the government and cause their benefits to be docked or terminated. In many cases, their indigent families have depended on the income for years…”

Supplemental Security Income and Refugees

Elderly and disabled immigrants may lose financial aid, By Alexandra Zavis, August 22, 2010, Los Angeles Times: “Some of the poorest elderly and disabled people admitted to this country on humanitarian grounds will lose their cash assistance in October unless they have naturalization applications pending, federal officials say. Letters have been sent to 3,800 recipients of Supplemental Security Income, including some in California, warning them that their eligibility for the federal program could end Sept. 30, said Lowell Kepke, a spokesman for the Social Security Administration. The deadline has caused concern among refugee advocates, who point out that some of these legal immigrants aren’t able to pass the citizenship exam or can’t yet apply because of delays processing their green cards. The refugees, asylees and other humanitarian immigrants are admitted to the U.S. because they have been victims of war, persecution or other disasters in their home countries…”

SSI and Eligibility for Food Stamps – California

USDA urges California to reverse food stamp policy, even though some could lose benefits, By Alexandra Zavis, August 10, 2010, Los Angeles Times: “The U.S. Department of Agriculture is encouraging California to consider reversing a policy that prevents some of the state’s poorest and most vulnerable residents from applying for food stamps, even though it could cost some current recipients their benefits. The suggestion, contained in a letter to the California Department of Social Services, has raised concern among some advocates for the poor who were hoping federal authorities would allow the state to open the food stamp program only to those recipients of cash assistance for impoverished elderly and disabled people who would not be adversely affected. ‘We really do want to make sure that we protect those households with disabled children and low-income seniors that benefit from the current policy,’ said George Manalo-LeClair, senior director of legislation for California Food Policy Advocates. The letter received Friday from the Department of Agriculture said federal law prohibits California from changing the rules for some and not all recipients of Supplemental Security Income…”

Supplemental Security Income and Refugees

Many indigent refugees to lose federal assistance, By Robert Pear, July 31, 2010, New York Times: “The Social Security Administration is about to terminate cash assistance for thousands of indigent refugees who are severely disabled or over the age of 64. ‘You will lose your Supplemental Security Income on Oct. 1,’ the agency says in letters being mailed to more than 3,800 refugees. All fled persecution or torture. Many are too old or infirm to work and are not yet eligible to become United States citizens. Federal law sets a seven-year limit on payments to refugees. The maximum federal payment is $674 a month for an individual and $1,011 a month for a couple. In 2008, Congress provided a two-year extension of benefits for elderly and disabled refugees, asylum seekers and certain other humanitarian immigrants, including victims of sex trafficking. The extra eligibility period is now ending, and Congress has not taken action to extend it…”

SSI and Eligibility for Food Stamps – California

State’s food stamp cash-out policy no longer the best option for many aid recipients, By Alexandra Zavis, July 5, 2010, Los Angeles Times: “Leaning on a cane, Donjean Gardner eases open her fridge and surveys the contents: half a Subway sandwich, several boxes of tangerine juice, a jar of pickles and half a jar of salsa. Her one good meal a day comes from Meals on Wheels. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in her 30s, Gardner traveled the world for 20 more years working in television production. But the disease caught up with her eventually. Now 70, she is mostly confined to the metal bed that dominates her cramped apartment in Echo Park. Her only income is $845 a month in cash assistance for impoverished elderly or disabled people, most of which is spent on rent. She thought she might qualify for food stamps. To her dismay, the answer was no. California is the only state that does not allow its 1.2 million recipients of federal Supplemental Security Income to apply for the benefit. The state decided in 1974 to increase its matching grant – known as the State Supplementary Payment – by $10 a month in place of administering food stamps for them. This additional amount has not changed in more than three decades…”

State Budget Cuts to Social Services – California, Missouri

  • Schwarzenegger’s plan could cut deep for those who depend on state stipends, By Susan Ferriss, February 1, 2010, Sacramento Bee: “For Capitol insiders, it’s easy to chalk it up as a bluff when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposes terminating welfare-to-work and in-home care for the disabled if California doesn’t get billions in federal money he’s requested. But it’s no chess game for a welfare-to-work mother seriously trying to find a job, or a person in a wheelchair whose living stipend has already been slashed twice in one year. Social services spending is a big chunk of the state budget and is often cited as a prime example of runaway spending. Indeed, national comparisons show California is home to nearly a third of all welfare-to-work recipients. The typical $694 monthly welfare-to-work grant a mother and two children receive in California trails only Alaska and New York. The $845 monthly grant for low-income elderly or disabled individuals under the SSI/SSP program likewise is third-highest in the nation. But numbers also show that California’s safety net is getting less generous all the time…”
  • Missouri governor’s budget proposal would trim into social safety net, By Jason Noble, January 31, 2010, Kansas City Star: “About $1.4 million in state funds reaches 844 teen parents and at-risk youths in nine sites across Missouri, connecting them with mentors and delivering parenting tips and life skills. Come July 1, however, state aid may drop to zero dollars under the budget proposal released earlier this month by Gov. Jay Nixon. ‘This is tragic what’s happening right now in the state,’ said Amy Beechner-McCarthy, executive director of the Community Partnership in Rolla. ‘And, unfortunately, it’s those with the least voice that are hurting the most.’ In his budget, Nixon strived to make $253 million in cuts with scissor snips rather than machete swipes. The effort was lauded by many in the social services arena, who feared deep cuts to education and aid to the poor. But even the smallest cuts will have real effects on the state’s social safety net, service providers said. The cuts, if carried through by the General Assembly, will cause populations in difficult circumstances to lose services. Advocates worry it also may end up costing the state more in the long run…”

State Cuts to Social Services – California, Maine

  • Governor warns of deep fiscal crisis as he unveils California budget plan, By Evan Halper and Shane Goldmacher, January 9, 2010, Los Angeles Times: “Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger warned Friday that the state remained deep in fiscal crisis and proposed steep reductions in almost every major government program, but many lawmakers quickly dismissed his ideas as stale and vowed to push for alternatives such as tax hikes. His proposal, aimed at closing a $19.9-billion gap, and the response to it foreshadow another year of paralysis in Sacramento as the governor and lawmakers struggle with the latest crippling shortfall. The new budget blueprint — the governor’s last before term limits force him from office — comes after the state’s epic financial problems have already become a target of ridicule around the world. Even after $60 billion in program cuts, tax increases and federal stimulus money over the last year, California’s books are so far out of balance that the state is once again in danger of having to issue IOUs…”
  • Budget proposal ‘disaster’ for the poor, By Troy Anderson, January 12, 2010, Los Angeles Daily News: “The governor’s proposed state budget could mean a record loss of nearly $4 billion for Los Angeles County, putting hundreds of thousands of needy residents at risk of losing welfare checks, in-home care, health care and other services, officials said Tuesday. ‘It’s very stressful for us when we hear the state budget has a $20 billion shortfall,’ said Gloria Molina, who chairs the Board of Supervisors. ‘We know there is going to be an awful lot of cuts made for many of our services… That is terrifying to all of us.’ Under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget, Molina said, nearly 400,000 county welfare recipients could lose $1 billion in benefits…”
  • Social services cuts worry Bangor, Portland, By Glenn Adams (AP), January 12, 2010, Bangor Daily News: “Lawmakers expressed horror over proposed cuts in the state program that helps some of the most desperate Mainers on Monday as they began reviewing potential social service cuts recommended by Gov. John Baldacci’s administration. The program is called general assistance and it serves as a last resort for the homeless, the hungry and ‘those out on the street,’ Sen. Joseph Brannigan said during a hearing before two committees assessing numerous cuts. The cuts in Baldacci’s supplemental two-year budget seek to address a $438 million gap between revenues and expenses…”

Shift from TANF to Other Assistance Programs – Louisiana

Experts discern shift in welfare programs, By Sarah Chacko, November 15, 2009, Baton Rouge Advocate: “Many people leaving Louisiana’s state welfare rolls may have traded one government-assistance system for another, some social policy researchers say. The number of low-income families receiving state cash assistance has plummeted, which was the intended result of changes made to the welfare system in 1996, said Richard Burkhauser, an economics professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. But those statistics, often cited as evidence that more and more people are being lifted out of poverty, paint an incorrect picture, particularly when coupled with other government numbers, Burkhauser said. ‘We didn’t go far enough in devolving welfare programs in the states,’ he said. ‘It’s an even worse problem than it was before welfare reform.’ As part of the changes to welfare, people getting payments from a state-run program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, were cut off the rolls after a certain period of time. States were required to push more welfare recipients into jobs or training programs. However, as the state rolls decreased, the number of people receiving federal cash benefits for the disabled and the low-income elderly crept upward…”

State Budgets and Programs for the Poor

  • State not paying bills: Social services in doubt, By Andre Salles, November 18, 2009, Geneva Sun: “Every day, Cindy Worsley looks through her mail, hunting for a check from the state of Illinois. And every day, she comes up empty. Worsley is the executive director of Fox Valley Older Adult Services. The not-for-profit company, based in Sandwich, has been providing help and care to seniors in the Fox Valley for 37 years. It operates three adult day care sites — one in Aurora (called Rachel’s Place), one in Sandwich, and one in DeKalb — and provides in-home care, meals and transportation services to more than 200 seniors each day. But now, Worsley is preparing for the worst. The services she provides are dependent on state funding to continue, and those payments are months late. She did receive a check from the state about six weeks ago, she said, which paid the state’s obligations through June. But she’s essentially been operating since July with no state cash at all, and she’s owed about $140,000…”
  • Budget cuts will imperil state’s poor, By David Abel, November 17, 2009, Boston Globe: “Maria Bonilla – who has trouble walking because of a congenital heart defect – feeds, houses, and clothes her two young children with $942 of state and federal cash assistance every month, though it barely covers her rent, utilities, and everything else her family needs to survive, from diapers to subway fare. But in a few months the 27-year-old victim of domestic violence expects to be homeless. The Bonilla family is one of thousands of low-income families who will suffer from steep budget cuts. The state estimates that the children of 9,100 families with parents so severely disabled that they qualify for federal Supplemental Security Income benefits will lose their state cash assistance as a result of the $600 million in budget cuts that Governor Deval Patrick announced late last month. The $15.8 million reduction of the Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, on top of $8 million in cuts made earlier this fiscal year, means families who receive the assistance will lose an average of more than $400 a month…”

County Funding and Cash Assistance – Los Angeles, CA

L.A. County may spend money to try to save money on welfare, By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, September 20, 2009, Los Angeles Times: “With the cost of helping Los Angeles County’s welfare recipients expected to hit $1 billion by the end of this fiscal year, county officials are pushing a plan to shift the burden of some of the most hard-core unemployed to the federal government. If they succeed, local taxpayers could save tens of millions of dollars, and thousands of disabled welfare recipients would see their aid more than triple. But the hurdles could prove high. County officials propose spending $7.2 million to help applicants through a notoriously difficult process to qualify for federal disability assistance. The question remains: Does it make sense for the county to gamble millions now with massive state budget cuts looming?…”

Supplemental Security Income Program – California

SSI/SSP program, hit often by cuts, in line for more in October, By Jim Miller, August 20, 2009, Riverside Press-Enterprise: “California’s budget crisis has triggered a quick drop in welfare payments to about 1.3 million elderly, blind and disabled residents, fraying a major part of the state’s safety net. State spending on the federal-state Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Program has grown by about a quarter this decade. Now it’s shrinking. Since January, the maximum monthly payment for individual participants in the program has declined from $907 to $850. Last month’s budget-balancing package will cause checks to drop again in October to a maximum of $845 for individuals. The federal poverty level is $10,830 annually for a one-person household, an average of $903 a month…”

Cuts to Antipoverty Programs – Michigan, Connecticut

  • Proposed cuts to Mich. budget hurts poor, By Karen Bouffard, August 6, 2009, Detroit News: “Services for the poor would be decimated under cuts proposed to close Michigan’s $1.8 billion budget hole, according to more than two dozen groups who asked Lansing lawmakers Wednesday to protect vulnerable people from shouldering the state’s economic woes. The coalition of faith-based and human services organizations — from the Food Bank Council of Michigan to the Association of United Ways and the Michigan Catholic Conference — said disproportionate cuts to the state departments of Human Services and Community Health would obliterate the social safety net at a time when unemployment in the state has spiked to 15.2 percent…”
  • Welfare to work program is latest budget victim, By Susan Haigh (AP), August 9, 2009, Hartford Courant: “A 13-year-old initiative that helps needy people move from welfare to work is the latest victim of Connecticut’s budget impasse. Programs ranging from on-the-job training to child care stopped as of July 1 for thousands of people – mostly women – who receive Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, a state cash assistance program that can last 21 months. The July and August executive orders, issued by Gov. M. Jodi Rell to run the state without a permanent two-year budget in place, slashed funding for the Jobs First program, leaving just enough money to cover some staff at the state Department of Labor.