Welfare Policy And Substance Abuse In The United States

Generally speaking, the American income maintenance system is divided into two ''tracks'' based on the relationship of beneficiaries to the labor force. For the so-called ''insurance-like'' programs, notably Old Age and Survivors Insurance (what Americans refer to colloquially as ''Social Security''), Social Security Disability Insurance, and Unemployment Compensation, eligibility is linked to an applicant's history of payroll deductions— contributions from wages to the public fund that supports the program. The so-called ''welfare'' programs, on the other hand, are ''means-tested.'' That is, eligibility hinges on meeting strict limits on current earnings and accumulated wealth. Welfare programs are for very poor people and their benefits are substantially inferior to those paid by the insurance-like programs.

As well, the American income maintenance system is ''categorical.'' For the most part, eligibility is based on membership in a particular category defined by administrative rules: Old age benefits are for those who meet the administrative definition of aged status; disability benefits are for those who meet the medical and vocational standards defining that category, and so forth. Except as discussed below in connection with General Assistance, there are no welfare programs for hale, nonelderly adults without children.

Finally, the income maintenance system in the United States is funded and administered by federal, state, and local (primarily county) governments. Insurance-like programs are usually funded and administered by the federal government, thus creating a significant degree of uniformity in benefits and eligibility rules. Welfare programs, however, usually are funded and administered by two or more levels of government, and benefit levels and eligibility rules vary considerably among political jurisdictions.

This article concerns the intersection of substance abuse and initial and continuing eligibility for welfare programs in the context of policy changes made during the 1990s. It focuses mainly on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and, to a lesser extent, General Assistance

(GA). Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a federally funded and administered welfare program for the elderly, blind, and disabled, is the subject of a serparate entry concerned with addiction as a disabling impairment in the disability programs administered by the Social Security Administration

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