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access to benefits

Many full-time workers in the United States are unable to make ends meet. Government “work support” policies – benefit programs such as earned income tax credits, public health insurance, child care assistance, and SNAP/food stamps – can help some families close the gap between low earnings and the high cost of basic expenses. While federal government guidelines provide a framework for work support policies in the United States, there is wide variation in how these policies are implemented across states.

This report analyzes the effectiveness of these policies. Findings from this report show that the current patchwork of state policies fails to ensure that workers are able to afford their families’ basic living expenses, leaving a number of low-wage workers and their families without adequate support. A greater federal investment is needed to create a comprehensive work support system that is designed to encourage and reward employment as well as provide workers with enough resources to care for their families. Federal priorities should include addressing the high cost of basic needs with an increased investment in affordable child care, subsidized health insurance, and housing assistance as well as structuring the work support system to better support workers’ advancement toward financial self-sufficiency.

Jessica Purmort
National Center for Children in Poverty, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University

This report presents analyses from a statewide study on the impact of The Ohio Benefit Bank. It follows prior work which assessed the economic and social impact of The Ohio Benefit Bank program on the state, communities, families, and individuals. The Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks (OASHF), with funding from The Columbus Foundation, commissioned Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs to conduct this study.

In consultation with the project sponsors, the Voinovich School designed a three‐phase longitudinal telephone survey of Ohio Benefit Bank clients. The purpose of this study was to assess the factors that influence clients’ decisions to apply for certain benefits that they were estimated to be potentially eligible for through The Benefit Bank® online service, and the impact the accessed benefits had on these individuals. The study focused on Ohio Benefit Bank clients who had been screened for potential eligibility for Medicaid, food assistance, and/or cash assistance, but had not received these benefits in the past year. In particular, the project sought to understand why some Ohio Benefit Bank clients take the next step and apply for benefits with County Department of Job and Family Services and why others decide not to apply.

The study focused on these key questions:

  1. Who accesses Ohio Benefit Bank services?
  2. Do Ohio Benefit Bank clients complete their applications?
  3. How do benefits impact clients over the short‐term?
Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University
Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University

Virtually all states have made basic program information on the five main state-administered low-income benefit programs — SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps), Medicaid, CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), and child care assistance — available to the public via the Internet. Many states, however, go much further, providing information such as application forms and data on the number of participants. A number of states allow individuals to apply for benefits and transact certain related business online. In addition to information provided for the five main state-administered low-income benefit programs, thirty states have General Assistance (GA) programs for individuals not qualifying for any other public assistance, and provide basic program information for GA online as well.

This paper provides links to state information available online for these benefit programs. Individuals seeking information about eligibility and benefits in a particular state will find these links a useful place to start. Most state human service agencies also provide phone numbers for families to seek additional information. In addition, individuals in most states (as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) can call 2-1-1 on any type of telephone for help finding out about many kinds of assistance, including emergency help with food, housing, or clothing, physical or mental health treatment, and assistance for the aged, people with disabilities, and families with children.

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The Welfare Rules Database provides a comprehensive, sophisticated resource for anyone comparing cash assistance programs between states, researching changes in cash assistance rules within a single state, or simply looking for the most up-to-date information on the rules governing cash assistance in one state.

The Welfare Rules Database includes:

  • A detailed database of AFDC/TANF rules in effect for all 50 states and the District of Columbia by state for years 1996 through 2010.
  • Information on rules that are in effect at a point in time (not proposals or legislation). Caseworker manuals are used to identify program rules. State administrators review the entries for each state to assure accuracy.
  • A point-and-click interface for querying the database. While the search engine is easy to use, state cash assistance programs are complex. Please review the Users Guide and Data Dictionary to help you effectively frame the question you want to answer.
  • The standard rule that affects most of a the caseload for most of the year. The standard rule is available by state, year, and category of rule.
  • Variations to the standard rule. This information details differences across geographic areas within a state, groups of recipients within a state, or months of the year.
David Kassabian, Tracy Vericker, David Searle, and Mary Murphy
Urban Institute

Available financial aid covers only a fraction of what community college students pay for their education.  To finance their studies, many of them enroll in school only part time and/or work more than 20 hours per week, strategies that increase their likelihood of dropping out. To help address this problem, this report highlights strategies adopted by higher education institutions to increase the financial resources of their students. The practices outlined either help students access existing financial aid or provide students with new types of aid. 


  • Helping students access available financial aid by providing one-on-one assistance with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid; mandating that students meet with academic and financial aid counselors; and, implementing student-centered financial aid administration practices.
  • Allocating institutional grants on the basis of need so that students can meet their financial obligations, work less, and focus more on their studies.
  • Developing emergency aid programs that have flexible eligibility criteria, simple application and approval processes, are advertised widely and link students to other financial services.
  • Easing the cost of transportation for students by negotiating discounts with public transportation systems and offering transportation subsidies.
  • Centralizing access to other forms of financial support. Given the income and demographic characteristics of community college students, a substantive number of them may be eligible for federal and state benefit programs (such as food stamps, tax credits, etc) that could help them obtain the financial resources they need to stay in school. Some community colleges help students access this aid by creating a “one-stop shop” on campus for all benefits.
  • Helping students access health insurance by creating consortiums among colleges to purchase affordable and comprehensive health insurance for students; incorporating the cost of health insurance in total expenses for uninsured students; and creating student health centers on campus.
Viany Orozco & Lucy Mayo

In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act increased vital resources such as food stamps, unemployment insurance, and housing subsidies available to low-income families struggling through the recession. But not all families were able to gain access to and receive the benefits for which they were eligible. This report suggests that there is a need for funders, states, communities and the federal government to create more programs that low-income families can access.

Shelley Waters Boots
The Ford Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The brief discusses the central role that states play in the delivery of work supports to low-income working families and how policies can be changed to not only increase access to these supports, but to also foster economic family stability and asset building.





John Quinterno
Working Poor Families Project, Annie E. Casey Foundation, Joyce Foundation, Mott Foundation

Due to low wages, lack of benefits, and inconsistent employment, many workers are unable to meet their own and their families' basic needs through employment alone. The Annie E. Casey Foundation developed the Center for Working Families® (CWF) concept as a response to the challenges facing such low-income working adults and their families. The CWF approach revolves around offering clients a set of focused bundled services in three overlapping areas:

  • Employment and career advancement - including assistance with job readiness, job placement, occupational skills training, education and career advancement.
  • Income enhancements and work supports - helping clients gain access to public benefits, tax credits, financial aid and other benefits to improve their financial security.
  • Financial and asset building services - workshops, classes, one-on-one counseling and access to well-priced financial products and services to help clients improve their household finances and build assets.

A key aspect of the CWF model is that  programs bundle and sequence services rather than offering just one component, or offering multiple components but leaving it up to participants to discover and seek out additional services. Delivering integrated services requires well-planned program design, the hiring and training of staff with strong skills and backgrounds, and the thoughtful use of technology and data collection. In 2010, the Annie E. Casey Foundation asked CLASP to conduct a scan of federal programs that could potentially be used to support integrated service delivery in these three areas, recognizing the need to access public funds in order to bring this approach to scale. The Federal Funding Integrated Service Delivery Toolkit describe the federal funding programs we identified, with a focus on the components of the integrated strategy that might be publicly supported, the eligible populations and use of funds, and possible issues that might arise.

Elizabeth Lower-Basch and Abigail Newcomer
Center for Law and Social Policy

Guide for low-income adults enrolling in college or other postsecondary training on public benefit options that may be available.

Deborah Harris, Staff Attorney, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and Ruth J. Liberman, Vice President of Public Policy
Crittenton Women’s Union