CASH ASSISTANCECash Assistance Programs are government funded work supports that help people achieve self-sufficiency. These programs are modifications of earlier "Public Assistance" programs that were first passed in 1935 by President Roosevelt to respond to the Great Depression of the mid-1920s. These programs have gone through many changes throughout the years, the most recent being the passage of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), which fundamentally and permanently altered the purpose and priorities of public assistance in this country. These programs can no longer be thought of purely as safety-net programs. Most have no mechanism in place to respond to downturns in the economy, nor can they account for the growth of low-wage jobs in an increasingly service-based economy.
THE UTAH FAMILY EMPLOYMENT PROGRAM (FEP)FEP has its roots in experimental welfare policies dating back to the early 1990s. It was later modified and codified in response to the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) that enacted the new federal cash assistance funding mechanism known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Under PRWORA, public assistance is paid for by administering federal funding to states via a fixed block grant. The new capped-funding approach requires states to choose between policies based on their cost-effectiveness rather than their ability to demonstrate positive outcomes for families.
Public assistance now has lifetime limits and recipients are required to participate in work activities in order to maintain their eligibility, usually at least 30 hours a week. Program applicants must meet strict income and asset guidelines and comply with various requirements designed to get them back into the workforce as quickly as possible. For more information about eligibility, benefits and requirements, visit the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
GENERAL ASSISTANCE (GA)The General Assistance program serves single adults or married couples without dependent children who are unable to work because of a short- or long-term disabling condition. It provides transitional support for those temporarily unable to work and operates as a stop-gap for those awaiting a determination of permanent disability from the Social Security Administration. Though small, the $261 per month payment for individuals ($362 for couples) helps people to remain in their homes and defray medical costs. The GA program is entirely paid for with state funding. Unfortunately, due to the current economic situation, the GA caseload has increased 15% over the past year. Serious cuts made by the Utah Legislature have dramatically reduced the program's funding. Due to these cuts, the GA program was completely restructured in the summer of 2009 resulting in shorter time limits, tougher eligibility requirements, and several hundred disabled individuals losing their benefits. The GA program is administered by the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
CHILD CARE SUBSIDYThe Payment-to-Parent Assisted Child Care Program is a federal and state funded program that provides assistance to both single- and two-parent families. Parents receiving assistance for child care must be employed (merely searching for work is not a qualifying condition). A parent may also attend school or receive training provided they are also employed and can complete the program within 24 months. Eligibility for child care assistance ends when an applicant's earnings are at 64 percent of state medium income, or at 176% of the poverty level. Eligibility for child care assistance is available to families whose gross income does not exceed 300% of the poverty level. Payments for child care are determined by a number of factors and often do not cover the entire cost of a provider.
Given that the cost of child care can range from $4,000 to $10,000 annually - easily eclipsing the cost of college tuition - the child care subsidy is critical for ensuring that families remain successfully in the workforce. Utah currently pays 75% of average child care costs as determined by market surveys. The child care assistance program is the only one to see a decrease in the number of cases over the past year. Its caseload has gone down by 12%. This is because individuals only qualify for child care assistance if they are working. As more people are being laid off, they are no longer eligible for the subsidy. The Payment-to-Parent Assisted Child Care Program is administered by the Department of Workforce Services Office of Child Care.
THE KIDS IN CARE: JOB-SEARCH CHILD CARE REIMBURSEMENT PROGRAMUtah has been able to extend the child care subsidy to help support recently unemployed parents with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) dollars. The program provides up to 100 hours of reimbursed child care for parents who have become unemployed in the last 90 days. Child care providers must offer "drop-in" hourly care or they will not be eligible for reimbursement. The program is administered through the local Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) offices.
UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCECreated as part of the package of New Deal programs in 1935, the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program is a federal-state partnership designed to mitigate the ripple effect of economic downturns on businesses, communities and on workers themselves. UI is intended to partially replace lost earnings for those currently in the workforce who have become involuntarily unemployed. It mitigates the effect of economic downturns by increasing consumption in communities affected by job loss. Eligibility and weekly benefit amounts are determined by a worker's attachment to the labor force as measured by their earnings and length of time employed.
In Utah, the maximum weekly benefit is currently set at $444, replacing on average less than 45 percent of the average wage. Claims made between February 22, 2009 through December 31, 2009 will receive an additional $25 a week in UI benefits, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The UI program is funded by a combination of taxes on businesses as well as penalties on businesses that incur successful unemployment insurance claims against them by former workers. Utah's utilization rate (i.e. the percentage of unemployed workers receiving Unemployment Insurance) is the second lowest of the western states, and is the 7th lowest in the nation. Though more research is needed to understand Utah's low rate of utilization, several policy areas should be examined to evaluate their ability to respond to a modern workforce and the particulars of lower-income workers, including providing benefits to part-time workers. The Utah Department of Workforce Services administers Utah's Unemployment Insurance program.