A life in poverty is a hard one. Feeding your family, paying utility bills, keeping gas in the car, if you have one—these are daily struggles for people living at or near the poverty line. Public assistance provides help for people to make ends meet, but that help is certainly not enough to support a life of luxury, rarely enough to provide more than the most basic necessities, and sometimes not enough to cover basic needs. Let’s take a look at the numbers.
Eligibility for TANF requires that households be at or below 200% of the federal poverty level and have assets of less than $3000. This may initially seem generous but consider that only 15% of people who received food stamps in 2010 had an income above the poverty line. Further, consider how this works in real dollars.
In the U.S., the average monthly amount of assistance for families receiving TANF was $392 in 2010. Monthly cash payments to families averaged $327 for one child, $412 for two children, $497 for three children, and $594 for four or more children. Many of these families were also eligible to receive food stamps. The average monthly amount of assistance for families receiving food stamps in 2010 was $130. For a single parent raising two children at home, that average was $135. That’s a total of $547 per month or $6564 per year for a single parent with two children. That’s barely a third of the poverty level for this size family ($17,568). [Click here for Alamance Co.]
Are these amounts making people rich? Hardly. And even with the most generous allotments of TANF and food stamps, there just isn’t enough money for a diet of steaks and lobsters. Yet can all the stories of people using their EBT cards to buy steak or having their nails done be wrong? Probably not all, but there is no doubt most are embellished and exaggerated and many are simply legends with each new narrator adding their own personal touch. But even for those read stories, the truth is often more complicated and ends in a basic question: Should the poor never be allowed the occasional luxury? “NC TANF State Plan,” NC Dept. of Health and Human Services, 2010-2013, pages 3,8; online at http://www.ncdhhs.gov/dss/workfirst/ (scroll to the bottom for the link). 2 “Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households: Fiscal Year 2010” published by the US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, page 15. Online at: http://www.fns.usda.gov/ora/MENU/Published/snap/SNAPPartHH.htm. 3 “Characteristics and Financial Circumstances of TANF Recipients, Fiscal Year 2010” published by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Family Assistance. Online at: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ofa/resource/character/fy2010/fy2010-chap10-ys-final….finalhttp://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ofa/resource/character/fy2010/fy2010-chap10-ys-final 4 “Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households: Fiscal Year 2010” published by the US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, page 20. Online at: http://www.fns.usda.gov/ora/MENU/Published/snap/SNAPPartHH.htm. 5 US Census Bureau’s poverty thresholds for 2010: http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/threshld/