The welfare system for the United States is regulated by each individual state. Though the states base their qualification levels on the federal poverty guideline, it is up to each state to determine the qualifications for its welfare program. State programs typically look at the number of people in the household and housing expenses, in addition to household income, when determining eligibility.
Though many programs throughout United States history provided help to the needy, the Great Depression brought about the beginnings of the welfare program as we know it today. It began with an amendment to the Social Security Act in 1939 which created the Aid to Dependent Children program and the beginnings of unemployment compensation. Modern benefits, such as temporary assistance for needy families, or TANF, unemployment and food stamps, are funded through a mix of federal and state funds and state agencies control enrollment and participation in each program.
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Welfare programs in the United States provide help in four main areas: health, housing, tax relief and cash assistance. Through Medicaid and Medicare, low income individuals and the elderly apply for and receive low cost medical care. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, has several programs in place to provide assistance to renters, veterans and individuals interested in purchasing a home. Low income families are also eligible for tax credits, such as the earned income credit. State departments regulate and award food stamps, TANF and unemployment benefits.
Each applicant seeking welfare assistance must meet federal and state guidelines. Federal guidelines require gainful employment, or for the adults in the family to make honest job-seeking efforts. You must establish the paternity of any child in the house who will receive benefits. Any minors with children of their own have to live with a parent or guardian. Guidelines for the number of hours worked and income amounts depend on the marital status of any parents and on the ages and number of children in the household. In 2011 the federal poverty level for the 48 contiguous states is $10,890 per year for a single person, $14,710 for a two-person household, and $22,350 for a family of four. Each state decides at what percentage over the poverty level to set the limit for welfare assistance. Alaska and Hawaii have separate poverty level guidelines.
How to Apply
The department of human services, department of social services or welfare office in your state is your best option for inquiring about and applying for welfare benefits. They will be able to tell you about the various programs available and help you apply for assistance. Also, some private companies and websites are available to assist you in locating and applying for government programs for low-income families. Be cautious when working with these companies. You should not have to pay for the opportunity to apply for government welfare programs.