Safety Net Is Pieced Together

Apr 20, 2011

By Elizabeth Lower-Basch

On April 5, 2011, the Subcommittee on Human Resources to the Committee on Ways and Means in the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing on GAO Report on Duplication of Government Programs: Focus on Welfare and Related Programs.  CLASP submitted testimony for the record on April 19 that focuses on how the programs should be coordinated into a system of benefits. Below is an excerpt:

We believe that income support programs should meet basic needs, reward work, and strengthen families. These programs should be coordinated into a system of benefits that is easy to access, unstigmatized, responsive to economic hardship, open to all, and fully funded. Education and training are drivers of economic mobility and opportunity, and low-wage workers and low-income individuals need access to them to enter and advance in the labor market...

...In the Government Accountability Office (GAO) testimony for this hearing, Ms. Brown describes the array of human services programs as "fragmented and overly complex." This is certainly true. This complexity increases administrative costs, and makes it difficult for needy individuals and families to receive the benefits and services for which they are eligible. However, in many cases this complexity is the result of deliberate legislative choices and varying policy priorities.

For example, TANF cash assistance programs and Supplemental Security Income both provide cash assistance and are both means-tested, but they serve different populations, and have fundamentally different expectations for recipients: one serves low-income families with children on a time-limited basis, and has a strong expectation of work, while the other serves low-income seniors, blind individuals and individuals with disabilities so severe that they have been determined to be unable to support themselves through work. TANF benefits vary greatly from state to state, and are generally low, while SSI benefits are set at a national level and adjusted annually for inflation. To call these benefits "duplicative" is misleading at best.

In other cases, states have chosen to use funds that Congress intentionally designed to be flexible to meet varying needs. Often this is because critical programs are significantly underfunded and a state chooses to use the flexible funds to help make up the difference. Consider child welfare funding. While the primary dedicated funding sources are Title IV-B and Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, they make up just over half of federal child welfare expenditures. States supplement these funds with TANF, SSBG and Medicaid funds. It's ludicrous to consider such supplementation to be duplication when we currently provide absolutely no services (not foster care, counseling, or anything else) to 40 percent of children whom we have investigated and found to have been abused or neglected. States are just trying to piece together the funding streams available to serve as many children and families as they can.

Read the full testimony >>

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