Guide to Using the United States Welfare System

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Public welfare has long been this country's favorite red herring. Because of our puritanical heritage, we have been graced with that Protestant ethic of ethics which says "No work, no bread!"

It’s as predictable as weeds in an August garden.
Mention “welfare” to the Great Middle Class and a
stereotyped image–accompanied by much raving and
instantly flashed across
Agnewland: Young, black woman in some big city with four
illegitimate children and more on the way, permanently
lollygagging about at the expense of “us honest,
hardworking taxpayers”. Kind of strange isn’t it: The
Pavlof response never seems to include the families in
Appalachia whose farms were strip mined by a company that
moved on, took its jobs with it and left… nothing. Nor
the old folks whose home and business were destroyed by an
urban “development” … nor the young father dying of
cancer… nor the children starving in Georgia because
“boss” only pays their daddy $5.00 a day and, that, just
during cotton season… nor the old lady blinded by
glaucoma… nor even the young, white, middle class working
people (“the company lost the contract and closed the
plant, you know”) that needs a little help till something
(“anything”) turns up. The truth of the matter is that
welfare was designed to do some particular jobs and–whenever those jobs need doin’
it should be used.
Furthermore, when it IS used
since our
government seems able to afford moon shots and insane wars
welfare should provide something more than
a bare existence. A little compassion thrown in wouldn’t
hurt either.

At the end of 1968 over 10 million Americans collected
public welfare in one form or another from the United States welfare system. But for every
individual who received a welfare grant, perhaps two more
were eligible! I will attempt to explain the welfare system
to you in order that you “know” the facts. If you think you
are eligible after reading this, GO TO YOUR LOCAL

The public welfare system has long been this country’s favorite red
herring. Because of our puritanical heritage, we have been
graced with that Protestant ethic of ethics which says “No
work, no bread!” As a natural extension of this train of
thought we have added that the poor must be “worthy” as
well as needy. And worthiness is measured in terms of how
much crow one will eat in order to collect welfare: the
more the crow eaten, the higher the welfare grant.

People, welfare is a right, not a privilege. It is
guaranteed in the Federal Constitution that all people have
the necessities of living. For fact, one need not even be a
citizen! One need only be eligible.

In order to see how welfare works, I should first explain
how it is financed.

All public welfare as we know it today in the U.S.A. came
about due to the Social Security Act of 1935 which carried
a provision that: States should insure that their residents
have the necessities; states set guidelines for these
necessities; and that federal money would be given to
states to develop programs within the states to see that
poverty was eliminated. However, it was not until the
Kennedy years that real teeth was given to the welfare

The 1964 amendment to the Social Security Act outlined the
various aid categories we still use (to be explained
later), and allowed the states to organize and administer
these programs using federal money. The states then
authorized the counties to organize departments of public
welfare, and to regulate and administer these same programs
using state and federal matching funds. So long as federal
and state guidelines were followed, the county was
reimbursed up to 95¢ per each welfare dollar spent.
Thus a breakdown of the welfare dollar runs 75¢
federal, 20¢ state and 5¢ county. There are a few
county programs which are financed solely by county funds,
such as General Assistance and County Medical.

Guidelines that were set up included insuring that a family
receive the proper amount of aid to which it is eligible,
insuring that a worker receive so many cases as a maximum,
insuring that a supervisor have no more than five workers
to oversee, etc. Public welfare departments, however, know
how to cheat and doctor figures. So do state departments of
social welfare. In other words, the figures are always
false–they just look good enough
to get federal financial reimbursement.

The federal programs that are available include:

  • Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC or
  • Aid to Disabled (ATD)
  • Aid to the Blind (AB)
  • Old Age Assistance (OAA or OAS)
  • Food Stamps or Commodities Programs

I shall now attempt a short outline regarding these
programs and the county aids one may be eligible to receive

Eligibility Factors

So long as a child exists in at family that is deprived of
income to support that child; AFDC is possible. Neither
natural parent need be present in order that AFDC payment
be collected. Usually the child cannot be older than 18 in
order to get AFDC, unless lie remains in school full time.
In this instance, payment would continue until the child
reached 21. If the family in question has a working father
as head of household, the family is NOT eligible to AFDC.
If the father is not working, the family is eligible to a
special AFDC-U (unemployed male breadwinner in family).
However, female breadwinners may work and still receive
AFDC for their children. This will be explained later under

Grants depend upon number in the family, age and sex of
family members, and the state maximum allowable. In other
words, grants vary from state to state. Property holdings
cannot exceed $600 in liquid assets (bank accounts, stocks,
bonds, auto, bank notes, insurance with cash surrender
value, etc.). Residence used to be a factor. However the
Supreme Court in April 1968 knocked down all state
residence requirements for welfare. One need only be
physically present and INTEND to remain permanently to be

This is for disabled people 18 to 65 who are physically or
mentally incapacitated from seeking gainful employment or
as in the case of housewives, unable to perform household
duties. Property holdings cannot exceed $1200 for one in a
family, and $2000 for two adults. Real estate holdings must
be utilized (an owned home that is being occupied is
considered utilized, and is okay). Residence is the same
for AFDC. Grants vary from state to state but are flat
grants (all ATD recipients receive the same amount).

This category is the same as ATD except one must be
legally, not totally, blind to be eligible.

Same as ATD except that the person must be 65 or over.

All those recipients of cash welfare grants are
automatically eligible for stamps or commodities. BUT you
need not be receiving welfare in order to get surplus food
or stamps.

This depends upon your income. You can be working and still
have an income below the federal eligibility requirements.
Check this out with your local public welfare office. The
program varies from county to county, some use stamps while
others use commodities. The stamps work as follows: for
every $20 of stamps you purchase with cash, you are given
an extra $6 of stamps. Commodities are surplus government
foods given free at food distribution points.

County Programs

Sometimes you are not eligible for any of the above
programs but you may be eligible for county aid. First is
General Assistance or Relief. This is a cash grant, very
little, which is given for a short time only. Single,
employable men CANNOT receive ANY cash aids other than bus
tokens and tokens for a bed for the night. Women without
families can receive GA, but for a short time at most. GA
is usually given to those who are waiting for the federal
program to take effect (while they remain under an
investigation period, they receive GA). Anyone needing
medical help can receive it from the county hospitals under
the County Medical Program. Its cost depends upon you
financial status. There are some “rehabilitative” programs
in counties. These are more like road farms for single,
unattached men with nowhere to go. They are usually for the

Special Needs

Special needs include cash grants above and beyond the
regular cash aid payment. Only federally reimbursed
programs have a special need allowance. Special needs run
from extra money for a telephone, medical transportation,
special diet on AFDC aids, to laundry and house repairs on
OAA aid. Best check with the social worker, or even better,
look this up in your state welfare manual. Workers may not
know all the regulations themselves. Some do, but act like
they were the personal guards of the public coffers and
refuse to tell you all that you might be eligible for in
order to keep cash grants down.

Other Income

One may receive other income and still be eligible to
receive aid. This depends upon the amount of the other
income and the amount of public aid. If the other income is
less than your grant, it is subtracted from the grant, and
you get your grant less other income. But the total remains
the same.

For example, suppose you receive $155 for ATD, and social
security awards you $105 per month disability. You would
then begin receiving only $50 from ATD plus the $105 from
social security, but the amount of $155 stays the same.
Female breadwinners may work and still collect AFDC for
their children. There remains a very liberal allowance to a
working mother so that most of her paycheck can be
eliminated from welfare consideration, eg., child care
payments, auto payments, transportation, lunches, special
clothing on the job, books if applicable, etc. When all of
these are removed from her paycheck, only a small portion
may be counted as income and removed from the AFDC grant.
Child support is also removed from AFDC grants.

Special favors over a continual time are construed as
income. For example, free rent can cause your grant to have
the rent portion removed. Free board removes the food
portion and so on. Gifts on special occasions are not
income unless the amount is sizeable. Clothing gifts are
never counted as income.


Man Assuming Role of Spouse has also been one of welfare’s
bugaboos. In essence, it states that any man who lives with
a welfare family in a spouse-like relationship is
presumed to be supporting the family, hence the
family may be cut off from aid. As of April 1970, the
Supreme Court reversed this due to a California case. Now,
welfare departments are obligated to prove that the man is
supporting the family before aid can be stopped.

This means that as long as the man can provide for himself,
he does not have to leave the home–or even support anyone in the
home–in order for that family to
receive AFDC. At most, the female parent of the children
may be excluded from welfare payments. Before this
decision, the boyfriend of a welfare mother had to keep one
step ahead of the welfare investigators …now he can stay
all night!

Child Support

Another problem with welfare programs is child support.
Most states make it a felony for the male parent to escape
paying child support whether he lives with the child’s
mother or is even married to her. Most states also have
reciprocal agreements with each other so that child support
dodgers can be arrested and returned to the original state
making the complaint. The counties are in charge of this
program, and the district attorneys have special
departments to do nothing but child support prosecution and
investigation. When a mother applies for AFDC she must
first sign a Failure to Provide statement against all the
natural fathers of her children. These statements can be
used to prosecute and even jail those fathers who refuse or
avoid payments. If the mother refuses to sign these forms,
she may also be refused aid. Some counties of some states
will put her through the ringer during their investigation
into the whereabouts of the father(s). She may be reduced
to a sobbing, screaming blob before they finish with her.
Some counties refuse to have any witnesses in the room
during this questioning in order to protect themselves from

My best advice is to have a lawyer present. Legally, the DA
cannot refuse you the right to be represented by a lawyer.
This will save you a great deal of stress and embarrassment.
Oh yes. There is one aid category in which children can be
held financially responsible to their parents! OAA states
that all children must be contacted to see if they can help
the parent.

Special Welfare Programs

There are various work incentive programs, retraining
programs and the like. These can be inspected for
possibilities by contacting your local welfare office or
the state employment service. You might also investigate
higher education programs which sometimes are available.
Welfare would underwrite the cost of tuition, books,
transportation and living money while you get a college

Lastly, there are special children’s programs. These
special programs include extra money for foster care. There
are in this world some very mean, psychotic parents of
children who take their own inadequacies out on their
children. Neglect, abuse, and abandonment are the losers in
each case. Of all the welfare programs, Child Protective
Services is possibly the most humane. It insures that
parents who neglect or abuse their children are watched,
but mainly helped with intensive social work services so
that the problem stops. If this cannot be done, the
children are removed from the home and placed in foster

No one, not even welfare, likes to split up a family. But
the first time you see an abuse case is the last time you
want a child to remain in the home of psychotic parents.
Most large cities have this program. If not, the juvenile
division of the police department or sheriff’s department
can be of help. Remember, children cannot fend for
themselves. It is not interfering to intercede on behalf of
a child! If you know of parents who mistreat children, call
your local welfare agency or police department and have the
matter investigated. You may be saving the life of the

How to Apply for Welfare

Look up the name of the nearest county public welfare
office in the phone book; it is usually listed under your
county Department of Public Welfare. Go there. Request an
application and a social worker. Remember that you cannot
be refused to sign up for any aid program. Welfare can
always deny aid, but it cannot deny request to apply for
aid. Also, you do have the right to at least talk to a
social worker. For family aids, you will need birth
certificates or some official papers for the children, and
marriage certificate and divorce papers if applicable. For
adult aids, you might need particular information. In the
case of ATD and AB you will need medical information
verifying your illness. If you have personal or real
property, these must be seen by the social worker in order
to qualify.

There you have it. If you meet these “simple”
qualifications sign up. One last word of advice, if I may.
Join your local Welfare Rights Organization. WRO is
composed of welfare recipients who are dedicated to raising
welfare grants so that people on welfare don’t starve, and
to uplift welfare recipients so that they are something
more than “the lost generation”. WRO realizes that welfare
is a right, and one need not ask, with meekness, for what
is legally and rightfully his. WRO demands that every
welfare cent to which a person is eligible must be given
him. WRO works for the recipient’s best interest. If there
is a WRO in your area, join it, if, there isn’t, organize

And best of luck.