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Measuring Poverty: A New Approach
lowest income and highest energy costs relative to their incomes, taking account of family size. LIHEAP benefits cannot be counted as income for purposes of determining eligibility or benefits for any other federal or state assistance program. In fiscal 1992, average benefits for heating assistance ranged widely, presumably as a function of climate conditions as well as state choices regarding eligibility and benefit levels, from $39 in Texas to $459 in Massachusetts.
Weatherization aid is available to families receiving AFDC, SSI, or state assistance program benefits or whose family incomes are below 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.
SELECTED PROGRAMS WITH THEIR OWN INCOME ELIGIBILITY STANDARDS
Aid to Families with Dependent Children
AFDC is a state-administered program with funding provided by both the states and the federal government through a matching provision. The program was established by the Social Security Act of 1935. In order to qualify for federal funding, a state must establish a standard of need that defines in monetary amounts the basic needs the state wishes to recognize as appropriate for an assistance standard of living; however, neither the components of the standard nor the methods for setting the standard are prescribed by federal law or regulation. Each state must apply this standard uniformly and statewide in determining financial eligibility for assistance, although it may vary the standard to account for family size or composition, area cost-of-living differentials, or other factors.
Although states are required to establish need standards, they may adopt lower payment standards for benefits: they may set a maximum payment that is below the need standard; they may pay a percentage of the difference between a family's income and the need standard; or they may pay a percentage of the need standard.
Recently, a number of states have lowered their payment standards to satisfy budget constraints and to try to induce recipients to adopt preferred behaviors. As examples, some states no longer provide an additional benefit for an additional child, or they condition benefit amounts on such actions as recipients' obtaining immunization shots for their children. (See Wiseman, 1993, for a list of these kinds of changes in payment standards for which states had waivers from the federal government approved or pending in 1992.)
Over the years, amendments to the law, court decisions, and federal regulations have formally reaffirmed the states' autonomy in setting AFDC benefit levels. In particular, the 1967 amendments to the Social Security Act affirmed the right of states to set payment maximums and to apply "ratable reductions" in order to set benefits lower than their standards of need. The