Prior to the Great Depression in the late 1920’s and 1930’s there was no systematic federal program for providing help to those experiencing joblessness and poverty. State programs were fragmented and various church organizations and private charities offered limited assistance. But during the Great Depression states and private charities were unable to keep up the support for those facing severe economic difficulty. By the spring of 1933, 20 percent of the nation’s school children showed evidence of poor nutrition, housing and medical care; unemployment exceeded 25% and about 10,000 banks had failed. As the impact of the Great Depression spread across the United States, President Franklin Roosevelt in his 1935 State of the Union address declared it was time for the national government to provide “security against the major hazards and vicissitudes of life.” On August 18, 1935, FDR signed into law the Social Security Act, a federal retirement program for persons over 65, which also provided for unemployment insurance benefits and a federal aid program for poor children and other dependent persons, known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). For the next 61 years AFDC guaranteed federal cash assistance to needy families and children as a social safety net.
Under “welfare reform” President Clinton and Congress in August 1996 passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWORA), which ended 61 years of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), guaranteed federal cash assistance that was part of the original Social Security Act. PRWORA established the federal block grant welfare program known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), which grants each state a fixed amount of money each year to administer a program to serve low-income families with minor children. The authority to design a welfare program was turned over to the states, which are given wide discretion in determining eligibility and the conditions under which families may receive assistance. In addition under PRWORA, families with dependent children became subject to time limits. Federally funded TANF benefits have a maximum life time limit of five years, although states may choose to limit TANF benefits to as little as two years. TANF became effective July 1, 1997 and was reauthorized in February 2006 under the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005.
Under the federal law states can design a welfare program that meets any of the four following purposes:
- Provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their owns homes or in the homes of relatives
- End the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work and marriage
- Prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of those pregnancies
- Encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families
New York State’s welfare program has had a history of providing assistance not only to families with children, but to needy singles and childless couples as well, and it continues this tradition after welfare reform. After PRWORA passed, NYS passed the Welfare Reform Act in December 1997 to conform to the new federal law. Through this Act NYS provides assistance to families with dependent children through the Family Assistance (FA) program, as well as assistance to households without dependent children under the Safety Net Assistance program (SNA), funded with NYS monies. In addition, through the Safety Net Assistance program, NYS continues to provide aid to those families who have reached their five year federal time limit under TANF, but continue to need assistance. For more information about time limits, see below, Time Limits. In 2007, NYS changed the name of the Public Assistance program to Cash Assistance (CA).
WHO ADMINISTERS THE PROGRAM
At the federal level the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) administers the TANF block grant. The New York State Department of Family Assistance has administrative oversight for the Cash Assistance program, specifically the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA). In NYC the Human Resources Administration (HRA)/Family Independence Administration (FIA) is the agency responsible for the Cash Assistance program. The local offices in NYC that administer Cash Assistance are called Job Centers. See below Government Contacts for phone numbers and contacts of local centers throughout the five boroughs.
PRWORA ended federal entitlement to assistance and instead created the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant that provides States with a fixed amount of federal funds each year. These funds cover benefits, administrative expenses, and services targeted to needy families. States can use TANF dollars in ways designed to meet any of the four purposes set out in federal law set out above. In addition, PRWORA created supplemental grants for certain states with high population growth or low block grant allocations relative to their needy population, as well as a contingency fund to help states weather a recession. Finally, the 1996 law created two performance bonuses. The first, known as the “high performance bonus” rewards states for meeting employment-related goals like job entry, job retention, and wage progression. The second is a bonus for reduction in non-marital births.
In order to receive TANF funds, states must spend a specified amount of state funds for benefits and services for members of needy families each year, known as maintenance of effort (MOE). A broad, but not unlimited, array of benefits and services for low-income families with children can count toward satisfying a state’s MOE obligation. The MOE requirement is that a state must have state expenditures each fiscal year of at least 80% (or 75%, if the state meets TANF overall and two-parent participation rate requirements under work requirements) of a historic state expenditure level.
Family Assistance is generally reimbursed 50% from the federal TANF block grant. The individual State and local districts share the remaining 50%. Safety Net Assistance is funded through State and local district monies.
Summary of the Cash Assistance Program
The Cash Assistance program is designed to enable households with limited incomes meet the basic needs of living, shelter, food, utility, and other daily living expenses. Eligibility for and the amount of the cash assistance grant is based on household size, income, and other factors, which are detailed below under Qualifying for Cash Assistance Benefits. In NYC, households typically apply for Cash Assistance at a local Job Center, see below, Applying for Cash Assistance, Where to Apply.
Other Benefits under the Cash Assistance Program
A pre-investigation grant is intended to meet the immediate needs of a Cash Assistance applicant household facing an emergency. Immediate needs are defined as those needs resulting from an emergency situation that must be met the same day to ensure the health and safety of individuals. Screening and eligibility for a pre-investigation grant should occur at the time of the initial interview at the Job Center. For more information, see below, Applying for Cash Assistance.
In addition to the Cash Assistance grant, additional grants may be available to applicants and recipients. These grants include:
- Shelter Arrear Grants
- Relocation Expenses
- Storage Fees
- Replacement of Furniture and Clothing
- Pregnancy Allowance
- Restaurant Allowance
- Burial Expense Payment
- Camp Fees
For more information on each of these grants, see below, Additional Allowances.
Households who do not require ongoing Cash Assistance, may be eligible to receive “one-time” grants to meet an emergency need, these are often called “one shot deals.” Refer to Cash Benefits, Emergency Assistance to Families; Cash Benefits, Emergency Assistance to Adults; Cash Benefits, Emergency Assistance Safety Net.
ENHANCED SHELTER ALLOWANCE FOR INDIVIDUALS WITH AIDS/HIV
Individuals with AIDS and those with certain HIV-related illnesses are eligible for an enhanced shelter allowance (a shelter allowance greater than the typical Cash Assistance shelter allowance) through the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA). For more information, see below, Housing Subsidies or refer to Cash Benefits, HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA).
FAMILY EVICTION PREVENTION SUPPLEMENT (FEPS)
FEPS is a NYC shelter supplement for families in receipt of Cash Assistance (CA) whose shelter expenses are higher than the CA maximum shelter allowance. For more information, see below, Housing Subsidies.
FOSTER CARE HOUSING SERVICES SUBSIDY
The foster care housing subsidy reunites children in foster care with their families (parents, other relatives, legal guardians, other caretakers) where lack of adequate housing is the main reason for separation. It is also available for older children in foster care whose goal is discharge to independent living. For more information, see below Housing Subsidies.