Qualifications for welfare vary by region and depend upon the type of social service assistance needed. Basic qualifications include total household income that falls below the poverty level in the area, and special circumstances, such as unusually high medical bills. Other factors that determine qualifications for welfare include the number of people in the family, especially children, pregnancy, homelessness, and unemployment.
Welfare programs include social programs providing indirect aid and cash economic assistance. Applicants seeking cash payments must show they are unable to support themselves or their families. Heads of households might be unemployed or underemployed, making it impossible to meet basic monthly expenses. Disabilities or temporary hardships represent other situations that factor into determining qualifications for welfare.
Social welfare programs might include rent subsidies to enable families to remain in a home when facing eviction or homelessness. These subsidies usually do not represent cash payments but go directly to the property owner. A similar program consists of food stamps, which are redeemed at grocery stores. In most areas, restrictions prohibit the use of food stamps for tobacco or alcohol.
Some families meet qualifications for welfare in the form of childcare vouchers to enable work outside the home. This program might pay all or some of the expense of childcare for low-income families. Families that qualify for childcare assistance are typically also eligible for welfare programs that pay medical expenses for children living in the home. Single parents might take advantage of these welfare benefits because they cannot afford private health insurance.
In some regions, programs exist that provide job training to help welfare recipients become employable. Tax breaks and help with utility costs might ease some of the burden of supporting a family until employment is found. Children living in these situations might receive free lunches at school as another indirect social welfare benefit.
The qualifications for welfare changed over the years in the U.S. from a federal program to control by individual states. Welfare began in the 1930s, when the Great Depression put millions of people out of work. Over the years, stories of widespread abuse of the system led to welfare reform restricting the number of years for cash payments and tightening eligibility for welfare assistance.
Temporary assistance for families set limits of two years before the head of household must find full-time employment. Single parents might work a shorter work week and still meet standards of the program. Changes to the welfare program aim to decrease reliance on outside assistance and make families self-supporting. Welfare reform in the United Kingdom also put conditions on benefits and increased benefits to children and the elderly, making its programs similar to those in Holland and Denmark.