AFDC Details

Franklin D. Roosevelt signed AFDC into law in 1935 as part of the New Deal's Social Security Act. At first, AFDC was a relatively small part of the overall social security program, but it grew in size as years passed. The original name of the program was Aid to Dependent Children. It offered financial assistance to families in which there was no adult male present or the adult male was unable to work. Originally, it was not intended to cover situations in which a man was unemployed. Other programs cover this eventuality.

The federal government covered one-third of the program's cost; individual states contributed the remainder. States could decide which families were eligible to receive assistance and how much they should receive. Until the mid-1960s, caseworkers had complete discretion and could stop or reduce benefits if they judged the recipient was unsuitable. The National Welfare Rights Organization challenged this and its lawyers filed a stream of lawsuits. These lawsuits sought to amend the administration of AFDC and extend its reach.

In 1997, AFDC was replaced by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). During its lifetime, AFDC had been criticized on two grounds. Firstly, some claimed that it acted as an incentive for poor women to have more children. Secondly, women who received aid were less likely to join the workforce as this would lead to a reduction in their benefits.

Example of AFDC

It is 1994, and Susan is a single mother with two dependent children under the age of eighteen. She has applied for AFDC and finds that the state in which she lives will calculate her entitlement under the program based on:

  • Family size
  • Income
  • Unavoidable expenses

Susan and her children are citizens of the United States, and Susan discovers that she meets the requirements. She is entitled to $366 per month, which is the median grant the states pay—although there is a considerable difference in this amount from state to state. Mississippi, for example, would only allow her $120 a month. Susan's grant will be reduced if she earns sufficient money to pay some of her other living expenses.

Background information in this section came from "Introduction to the AFDC Program" by Stephen B. Page and Mary B. Larner, published by Princeton University in 1997.

Aid to Families with Dependent Children vs. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

TANF was introduced to correct some of the perceived deficiencies and abuses of AFDC. AFDC guaranteed benefits to all those people whose income and resources fell below the eligibility level which the state had established. AFDC was subject to federally established guidelines. On the other hand, TANF is not an entitlement. Rather, individual states decide on their eligibility requirements and how much a recipient will receive. Under TANF, a recipient can only claim assistance for a total of five years in their lifetime.