If you are out of work and you have young children, you may be able to qualify for a national program called Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or AFDC for short.
AFDC was originally established to help needy fatherless children, but in 1990, it was expanded to provide aid as well for two-parent families who became needy because of one parent's job loss.
The program provides widely disparate benefits based on where you live, your family size and your other sources of income. Benefits for a three-person family can go as high as $891 monthly in Alaska and as low as $120 in Mississippi.
In addition, if you qualify for AFDC, you're normally able to receive several other types of aid, including food stamps and Medicaid. Housing and child care assistance may also be provided to AFDC recipients. However, you almost always have to apply for these other sources of help separately.
Who can get this aid? One and two-parent households with limited income and assets and at least one child under the age of 19.
Since AFDC and most other significant social aid programs are administered by individual states, it's difficult to generalize about what it takes to qualify and how much individual families can get.
However, there are a few standard rules that indicate how the system works.
It's essentially divided into two categories: Aid for single-parent families and aid for two-parent families, called AFDC-UP (for unemployed parent). In general, a single parent has an easier time getting help.
The two-parent program is restricted to families recently connected to the work force--i.e. the primary wage earner had to have been working for 1 1/2 years out of the past three or been eligible for unemployment compensation within the past year to qualify.
In addition, some states impose restrictions on payouts to two-parent households, only giving aid for six out of every 13 months. As of January, 1991, 13 states imposed this restriction, including Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.
Single parents can get aid 12 months a year and are not required ever to have worked.
But both single- and two-parent families may be forced to participate in any one of several job programs in order to maintain their AFDC eligibility.
There are several types of job programs administered by the various state welfare departments. Some provide community work experience, others provide education and job training. In any event, the AFDC recipient must only work the number of hours that equals the federal or state minimum wage (whichever is higher) divided by the amount of AFDC benefits the family is receiving. In other words, they can be required to work off their aid, but they cannot be punished for needing it.
If the family has children under certain ages and needs child care help in order to work or participate in the job program, the state must either provide the care or funds to pay for child care.
How limited must your assets and income be to qualify for AFDC?
The family may not have more than $1,000 in "allowable resources." That would include cash, investments, second homes and second cars. A personal residence and one car can be excluded from the calculation if they're worth less than specified amounts. (In some states your equity in both can't amount to more than $2,000.)
AFDC does not include the value of burial plots, clothing or furniture in allowable resources. Some states, moreover, will allow families to get assistance when they have more real property than allowed, if the applicants are making a good faith effort to sell it and promises to pay back their benefits when the sale goes through.
Applicants' income must also fall under certain limits to qualify. A parent with two children, for example, would not be eligible for AFDC if their monthly gross income (before tax) was more than $1,284 in California, $784 in Georgia, $577 in Missouri and $1,436 in Ohio.
Once you're accepted into the AFDC program, you must keep monthly records to maintain eligibility. The amount families get is calculated anew each month, usually based on the family's income two months prior. If the family gets gifts, Social Security checks or loans from friends during any given month, they're likely to see their AFDC benefits reduced dollar-for-dollar in subsequent months.
If one or both family members can find work and break out of the AFDC program, they may still be able to get transitional child care help and maintain their Medicaid coverage for a limited time. Information about these transitional programs is usually available through local welfare offices.