With the presidential candidate nominees speaking out and elections only a year away, the topic of welfare is one of interest on a national scale and the topic we will attempt to tackle this month. But what is welfare? We throw the term around haphazardly, but do we really know what it is?
I know what many people think when they hear the term:
So, let’s take some time to break things down and look at what “welfare” really is and rethink how we look at it. Welfare is a general term that covers a plethora of social assistance programs. From my experience, there are some programs that carry a very negative stigma and others that are virtually unknown. It is a very complex system that I will try to break down here.
Assistance programs and eligibility vary from state to state. In the state of Minnesota, when we speak about welfare we are referring to the following programs as defined by www.welfareinfo.org. I will highlight in YELLOW those that we will be focusing on as we move forward throughout the month.
The Minnesota Energy Assistance Program (EAP) helps pay home heating costs for low-income households, particularly those with the lowest incomes paying a high proportion of household income for home energy.
Services include payment of energy bills, help with utility disconnections or necessary fuel deliveries, education on efficient and safe use of home heating energy, advocacy with energy suppliers and human service providers on behalf of consumers, and repair or replacement of homeowners’ malfunctioning heating systems. In order to qualify, you must also have an annual household income (before taxes) that is below 60 percent of the State’s Median Income.
The Minnesota Family Investment Program, or MFIP, is the state’s welfare reform program for low-income families with children. MFIP helps families move to work and focuses on helping families. It includes both cash and food assistance. When most families first apply for cash assistance, they will participate in the Diversionary Work Program, or DWP. This is a four month program that helps parents go immediately to work rather than receive welfare. Some families may be referred to MFIP when they first apply for assistance or after they finish four months of DWP. MFIP helps families transition to economic stability. Parents are expected to work and are supported in working. Most families can get cash assistance for only 60 months.
Minnesota’s General Assistance Medical Care program provides health care coverage to adults without dependent children who have very low income. Covered services include doctor visits, hospitalization, prescriptions, eye exams, and more.
Head Start programs provide a learning environment that supports children’s growth in many areas such as language, literacy, and social and emotional development. Head Start emphasizes the role of parents as their child’s first and most important teacher. These programs help build relationships with families that support family well-being and many other important areas. Many Head Start programs also provide Early Head Start , which serves infants, toddlers, and pregnant women and their families who have incomes below the Federal poverty level.
Minnesota’s Medical Assistance program provides comprehensive health care coverage. Covered services include doctor visits, hospitalization, prescriptions, eye exams, eyeglasses, dental care and more. Certain home care services are also covered when medically necessary.
The National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program help schools provide nutritious meals to students each school day. These are U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs that are administered by the Minnesota Department of Education. Participating schools receive Federal and state funds for meals that meet established nutrition standards. Almost all public schools and many private schools participate in these programs.
The Special Milk Program (SMP) provides milk to children in schools and non-profit childcare institutions that do not participate in other Federal child nutrition meal service programs. Schools in the National School Lunch or School Breakfast Program Participating schools receive Federal and state funds for meals that meet established nutrition standards.
The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) serves nutritious meals at no charge to children in the summer when National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program meals are not available. SFSP sites are located in many low-income areas throughout Minnesota and serve meals to children up to age 18.
Formerly called Food Support or Food Stamps, The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a county-run, state-supervised Federal program that helps Minnesotans with low incomes get the food they need for sound nutrition and well-balanced meals. The program issues electronic food support benefits that can help stretch your household food budget.
General Program Requirements
SNAP eligibility depends on your household’s income. Households with an income at or below 165 percent of the Federal poverty level will not have an asset limit. County human services agencies accept client applications, determine eligibility and determine benefit levels in accordance with state and Federal regulations. SNAP is available in all 87 Minnesota counties.
Unemployment insurance benefits provide temporary financial assistance to workers unemployed through no fault of their own that meet Minnesota’s eligibility requirements.
General Program Requirements
In order to qualify for this benefit program, you must have worked in Minnesota during the past 12 to 15 months, and have earned at least a minimum amount of wages as determined by our guidelines. You must also be able to work and available for work each week that you are collecting benefits.
The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) uses energy conservation techniques to reduce the cost of home energy by an estimated percent. Correcting health and safety hazards and potentially life-threatening conditions is the first consideration in WAP activities. All homeowners and renters who are income eligible for Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) are income eligible for WAP. Priority is given to households with at least one elderly or disabled member and to customers with the highest heating costs. WAP is federally funded through the U.S. Department of Energy.
MinnesotaCare is Minnesota’s S-CHIP program, but adults may enroll in the program as well as children if they meet the eligibility criteria. MinnesotaCare provides comprehensive health care coverage. Covered services include doctor visits, immunizations, hospitalization, prescriptions, eye exams, eye glasses, dental care and more. Enrollees pay a monthly premium based on income, household size, and the number of people covered. Some low-income children and families pay as little as $4 per month.
The Minnesota Food Assistance Program (MFAP) is a county-administered, state funded program that assists people and families with low incomes to purchase food to better meet their nutritional needs. The program is not intended to supply all of a person or family’s food need. Instead, it is a supplement to help them achieve or maintain their independence. MFAP is provided to non-citizens who do not receive benefits from the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), who do not qualify for federally funded Food Support due to citizenship requirements, and who are age 50 or older. They must meet all other eligibility requirements as specified below.
So that’s a general overview of the various programs. It’s a lot to take in, I know. We will be delving into them deeper as the month goes on. I shut off comments on this article because this is simply an informational post. As we get into the nitty-gritty I will open them up and allow you to give feedback and ask questions.
Some of the issues I hope to tackle is the benefits open to refugees and immigrants, the use of EBT cards, welfare fraud, and some personal stories from community members. If you have ideas for other things you’d like to see or a story you like to share (you can stay anonymous) please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. It is our goal to provide you education to clear up any myths and misconceptions surrounding these programs as well as to lessen the stigma surrounding the need for these programs.
*This article is a guest post, written by a local member of our community.