What Is Welfare?

Welfare refers to a range of government programs that provide financial or other aid to individuals or groups who cannot support themselves. Welfare programs are typically funded by taxpayers and allow people to cope with financial stress during rough periods of their lives. In most cases, people who use welfare will receive a biweekly or monthly payment. The goals of welfare vary, as it looks to promote the pursuance of work, education or, in some instances, a better standard of living.

Key Takeaways

  • Welfare refers to government-sponsored assistance programs for individuals and families in need, including programs as health care assistance, food stamps, and unemployment compensation.
  • Welfare programs are typically funded through taxation.
  • In the U.S., 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.

How Welfare Works

Social welfare systems provide assistance to individuals and families through programs such as health care, food stamps, unemployment compensation, housing assistance, and childcare 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 the cost of living that are not standardized across the country.

There is no standardized system for the administration of social welfare programs, which vary state-by-state, are listed under different names, and have different requirements to qualify.

Welfare Programs in the U.S.

Welfare programs are initiatives set up by the government to support the poor, developmentally challenged, and disadvantaged groups of a country. The US government provides welfare assistance through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). TANF was created by Congress to prevent welfare recipients from abusing the welfare program by mandating that all recipients find a job within two years or risk losing their welfare benefits. The federal government, under TANF, provides am annual welfare grant of $16.5 billion to all states, as of 2019. The states use their allocated funds to operate their own welfare programs.

However, to receive the federal grant, states must also use some of their own money to fund their individual programs.

An individual that is on welfare is usually provided free or deeply discounted goods and services. The government requires that individuals or families seeking assistance must provide proof that their annual income falls below the federal poverty level (FPL). The FPL is an economic measure of income used to determine whether an individual or family qualifies for certain subsidies or aid. The 2019 FPL for one person is $12,490; $4,420 is added for each additional household member.

As of 2019, the FPL for an individual is $12,490, and $16,910 for a two-person household with an increment of $4,420 for each additional household member.

Different Kinds of Welfare

Some popular types of welfare in America include Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Child’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

  • Medicaid is a health insurance program geared towards people with low income and the elderly. Pregnant women, children, the disabled, and the elderly who fall below a certain income threshold are guaranteed coverage under the Medicaid program.
  • Supplemental Security Income is administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and provides public assistance to families in need in the form of cash.
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as the Food Stamp Program, is run by each individual state and provides vouchers to low-income households to buy nutritious and low-cost foods.
  • Child’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is administered by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and provides low-cost health care to children in households that won’t otherwise qualify for Medicaid.

Who Qualifies for Welfare?

Government welfare is primarily aimed towards people with little to no income, the elderly, and the disabled. Welfare can be in the form of grants, food stamps, vouchers, Medicaid, health care, and housing assistance. The subsidized program is only available for legal citizens and permanent residents of the United States. Federal law bans states from using grants to assist most legal immigrants unless they have resided in the country for five years or more.

A valid Social Security Number (SSN) is needed to apply for welfare. In households with more than one member, all members must have an SSN. In addition to meeting the requirements postulated by the federal government, individuals applying for welfare must also meet the requirements of their states. For example, some states require that the applicant be a resident of that state with the intention of continuously living there.

The desired outcomes of people on welfare will depend primarily on the circumstances that caused them to apply for aid. A mentally or physically disabled person may not be expected to assume independence after a period of time, so a welfare program would provide ongoing aid to better their standard of living. A person lacking education, or who cannot currently provide for themselves, also might be provided welfare. In this case, the person would be expected to receive training or take steps towards financial independence. Ongoing welfare is not a desirable outcome for this individual according to those giving it.