What Is a Social Welfare System?

A social welfare system provides assistance to individuals and families in need. The types and amount of welfare available to individuals and families vary depending on the country, state, or region. In the U.S., the federal government provides grants to each state through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

The benefits that an individual or family receives as part of a social welfare system will vary by state, as will the eligibility requirements. 

How a Social Welfare System Works

Social welfare systems provide assistance to individuals and families through programs such as health care, food stamps, unemployment compensation, housing assistance, and child care assistance. In the U.S., a caseworker is assigned to each individual or family applying for benefits to determine and confirm the applicant's needs.

The benefits available to an individual vary by state. Eligibility is determined based on factors surrounding the person’s financial status and how it relates to the minimum acceptable levels within a particular state. The factors involved can include the size of the family unit, current income levels, or an assessed disability.

Within each state, social welfare systems may go by different names, but they often serve similar functions. This can cause confusion when attempting to compare one state's program to another. Additionally, the requirements to qualify also vary, depending on the poverty line in a particular state. This allows for adjustments based on items such as cost of living that are not standardized across the country.

Key Takeaways

  • A social welfare system offers assistance to individuals and families in need, with such programs as health care assistance, food stamps, and unemployment compensation. 
  • Lesser known parts of a social welfare system include disaster relief and educational assistance. 
  • The federal government provides grants to each state through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
  • Eligibility for benefits is based on a number of factors, including income levels and family size.

Benefits of Social Welfare Systems

Available benefits generally cover assistance for food, housing, child care, and medical care. In the case of TANF, federal funds are provided to the states for distribution. These funds may be used for cash assistance, allowing a household to spend the funds as it deems necessary to meet its needs and obligations.

Some available housing benefits go beyond locating suitable and affordable properties and providing housing cost assistance. A household may qualify for assistance to complete certain energy efficiency upgrades. It may also receive funds to help pay utility bills.

Benefits around health and nutrition can include access to affordable medical care. Food and nutrition programs may supply funds, often referred to as food stamps or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), to provide easier access to food in general. Additional nutritional assistance through the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program provides food-specific benefits to ensure pregnant women and young children have access to healthy food options to promote growth and development.

Other programs that are parts of the social welfare system include disaster relief assistance, educational assistance, agricultural loans, and services specifically for veterans.