BEYOND THE NUMBERS
The Safety Net: Supporting Working Families and Promoting Work
Thirty years ago, the main assistance programs for families with children were the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, Medicaid, food stamps, and a very small EITC. AFDC provided assistance largely to single mothers during periods of joblessness; if a mother earned too much to qualify, she would lose not only income assistance but also Medicaid. Medicaid generally covered only parents and their children as well as elderly and disabled people who received cash welfare benefits; the working poor did not qualify. Far fewer households with children that received food stamps were working. The EITC did little more than offset some of the payroll taxes that working poor families owed.Today, the situation is very different.
- SNAP: The number of SNAP households that have earnings while participating in SNAP has more than tripled over the past decade, from about 2 million in 2000 to about 6.4 million in 2011. And, among families with children that receive SNAP and include an adult who isn’t elderly or disabled, 87 percent worked in the prior year or will work the following year.
- EITC and CTC: The EITC and CTC both offset payroll taxes and lift a family of four with a full-time, minimum-wage worker from 61 percent of the federal poverty line to 87 percent, a significant improvement in that family’s economic well-being. And, by boosting employment among single mothers, the EITC has produced large declines in the receipt of cash welfare assistance (see chart).
- Medicaid: Most children covered by Medicaid or CHIP are in low-income working families. Though many working-poor parents are currently ineligible for Medicaid, states that adopt health reform’s Medicaid expansion will be able to provide access to affordable coverage for nearly all of the working poor.