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Food, Cash, and Social Assistance

Food Assistance

There are 17 federal food assistance programs spanning three federal agencies: USDA, HHS and DHS, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

For the SNAP program, the USDA provides a monthly allotment to beneficiaries for the purchase of food. SNAP benefits are limited to the purchase of food items for use at home as well as seeds and plants to produce food. Benefits can only be exchanged at authorized food retailers. Benefits are 100 percent federally funded.

WIC provides supplemental food packages; there are seven different packages available, depending on the category of participant (e.g. infants younger than three months). WIC cannot be used to pay for food items that are not WIC-eligible.

Cash Assistance

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a block grant program providing states with funding to administer cash assistance, workforce development, child care and transportation, aid for nonworking parents, and other programs, activities, and services “reasonably calculated” to achieve TANF’s mission to:

  • Provide assistance to needy families so children can be cared for in their own homes;
  • Reduce the dependency of needy parents by promoting job preparation, work and marriage;
  • Prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies; and
  • Encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

States have broad discretion to determine eligibility for TANF and benefits and services. There is also a federally-imposed 60 month time limit for cash assistance for adults.

Social Services and Economic Development

There are several other block grants that provide social services to vulnerable populations:

Social Services Block Grant (SSBG)

SSBG provides grants to states for programs that meet five broad goals: achieve or maintain economic self-support to prevent, reduce, or eliminate dependency; achieve or maintain self-sufficiency, including reduction or prevention of dependency; prevent or remedy neglect, abuse, or exploitation of children and adults unable to protect their own interests or preserve, rehabilitate, or reunite families; prevent or reduce inappropriate institutional care by providing for community-based care, home-based care, or other forms of less intensive care; and secure referral or admission for institutional care when other forms of care are not appropriate or providing services to individuals in institutions.

Can be used to fund a wide range of activities in 29 service categories that promote self-sufficiency, prevent child abuse, and support “community-based care for the elderly and disabled.” Examples include childcare, home maintenance, home-delivered meals, health support services, family planning, employment services, adoption and foster care, transportation, services for substance abuse.

Cannot be used for land or capital improvements, room and board, wages, and most medical care (except that which is provided as an “integral but subordinate component of a social service.”)

Community Services Block Grant

CSBG provides grants to states, community action agencies, migrant and seasonable farm workers’ agencies, or other organizations specifically designated by the states to support projects that lessen poverty in communities; address the needs of low-income individuals including the homeless, migrants, and the elderly; and provides services and social activities addressing employment, education, better use of available income, housing, nutrition, emergency services and/or health.

Community Development Block Grant

CDBG funds a variety of activities related to economic development, neighborhood revitalization, housing rehabilitation and blight prevention. Can be used for acquisition of real property, relocation and demolition, rehabilitation of residential and non-residential structures, public services, among others.

Each activity must meet one of the national objectives: benefit low- and moderate-income persons, prevention or elimination of slums or blight, or address community development need having a particular urgency because existing conditions pose a serious and immediate threat to the health or welfare of the community for which other funding is not available.