Enrollment in the following public assistance programs: Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), public health insurance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), subsidized housing, and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
The so-called ‘social safety net’ is comprised of a number of public assistance (welfare, colloquially) programs that provide aid to members of the community who are experiencing financial distress. While charitable organizations also provide assistance to impoverished individuals and families, SCUIP defines welfare as the suite of programs funded or subsidized by the state and/or federal governments to support income-qualified individuals, families, and children.
Why is examining the use of public assistance important?
These statistics serve as indicators of the needs of the community. We can examine differences between measured needs (e.g. number in poverty) and the use of public assistance in order to identify gaps in service delivery. Also, we can measure changes in participation over time to track trends in service demand and supply as well as gaps in service delivery. At the same time, these programs add dollars to the local economy and keep a large proportion of residents out of poverty (for more, see this report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities).
How do we measure the use of public assistance?
The availability of statistics limits our ability to accurately measure the use of public assistance at the city level. Common measures include the number of participants per year and the percentage of the population utilizing the program. Below are descriptions of our selection of public programs. The Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services maintains a website that details many of the public assistance programs available to residents of the Commonwealth.
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP): LIHEAP provides assistance with paying for heating bills. Eligibility is based on household size and gross annual income, and household income must be less than 60% of the State Median Income. More information is available here.
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): WIC provides “supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.” A specific amount of funds is authorized each year by Congress in the form of federal grants to the states, so funding may not be available for every eligible individual to participate. The USDA Food and Nutrition Service notes that WIC has been shown to reduce infant mortality and incidence of low birth weights, increase pregnancy duration, and improve growth and intellectual development. More information is available here.
Subsidized Housing: Public Housing Authorities directly offer housing to low-income residents. They also offer Housing Choice Vouchers, which allow low-income residents to select their housing from the private market. The Voucher subsidy is paid directly to the landlord. More information is available here.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): SNAP provides food and nutrition assistance. Eligibility is based on income, expenses, and assets, and states are responsible for the day-to-day operation of the program based on federal requirements and rules. The Economic Research Service of the USDA estimates that as much as $9 of economic activity is generated from every $5 of additional SNAP expenditures. More information on the program is available here.
Note: This page previously contained regional Unemployment Insurance claim information and county data on WIC enrollment, but due to infrequent updates this information was removed. Unemployment claim information data can be accessed here, and WIC information is accessible here.
How is Fall River doing?
1. SNAP benefits: 29.9% of households
SNAP benefits are received by 29.9% of Fall River households, whereas 13.3% of Massachusetts households receive this benefit.
2. Social Security benefits: 35% of households
Social Security benefits are received by 35% of households, whereas 28.8% of Massachusetts households receive this benefit.
3. LIHEAP: 15,169 households
In 2015, 15,169 households in the Greater Fall River area received assistance paying their heating bill through LIHEAP. For the purposes of LIHEAP, the greater Fall River area included the towns and cities of Berkley, Dighton, Fall River, Freetown, Lakeville, Rehoboth, Seekonk, Somerset, Swansea, Taunton, and Westport. This is a reduction from all previous years tracked by SCUIP. In 2014, 15,492 households were served, and in 2013 16,463 households received assistance.
4. Public health insurance: 52.4% of those enrolled in insurance
A high percentage (94.4%) of residents are covered by health insurance. Of the Fall River residents covered by health insurance, 53.5% are enrolled in a public health insurance program. A high percentage (96.2%) of Massachusetts residents are also covered. Of Massachusetts residents covered by health insurance, 33.3% are enrolled in a public health insurance plan.
5. Public housing: 94% of units are occupied and 98% of available vouchers are utilized
As of 2014, Fall River has 2,000 public housing units and 94% are occupied. In 2012, there were slightly more available units (2,049) but the occupancy rate was the similar. Fall River has 1,009 Housing Choice vouchers, of which 98% have been utilized. This is a decrease in vouchers from 2012 (2,431) and 2013 (2,246), and an increase in utilization rate (86% in 2012 and 87% in 2013).
How is New Bedford doing?
1. SNAP benefits: 27.1% of households
SNAP benefits are received by 27.1% of New Bedford households, whereas 13.3% of Massachusetts households receive this benefit.
2. Social Security benefits: 30.1% of households
Social Security benefits are received by 30.1% of households, whereas 28.8% of Massachusetts households receive this benefit.
3. LIHEAP: 10,865 households
In 2015, 10,865 households in the Greater New Bedford area received assistance paying their heating bill through LIHEAP. For the purposes of LIHEAP, the New Bedford area included the towns and cities of Acushnet, Dartmouth, Fairhaven, New Bedford, Marion, Mattapoisett, and Rochester. This is a slight increase on the number of households served in 2014 (10,587), but a decline from previous years.
4. Public health insurance: 53.7% of those covered by insurance
A high percentage (93.7%) of residents are covered by health insurance. Of the New Bedford residents covered by health insurance, 53.7% are enrolled in a public health insurance program. A high percentage (96.2%) of Massachusetts residents are also covered. Of Massachusetts residents covered by health insurance, 33.3% are enrolled in a public health insurance plan.
5. Public housing: 97% of units are occupied, and 98% of available vouchers are utilized
New Bedford has 1,750 public housing units available, and 97% are occupied. New Bedford had similar occupancy rates in 2012 and 2013. The number of available units has remained stable, in 2012 there were 1,752 public housing units. The number of Housing Choice Vouchers has decreased. In 2012 New Bedford had 1,891, in 2013 there 2,239 Housing Choice Vouchers, and in 2014 New Bedford had 1,264 vouchers, of which 98% were utilized.
What’s being done in the area of public assistance, and where can I learn more?
Public assistance is one of the ways in which the community addresses poverty. Non-profit organizations, such as churches and food banks, provide assistance to low-income residents.
Citizens for Citizens, Inc. is a Community Action Agency that provides short-term support to over 42,000 households in the Fall River area that are experiencing financial difficulty.
South Coastal Counties Legal Services, Inc. provides free civil legal services to low-income and elderly citizens.
People Acting in Community Endeavors (PACE) aims to “develop strategies and to mobilize resources to alleviate poverty in New Bedford.”
The Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled, and Children (EAEDC) program provides cash benefits to those who are unable to work due to a disability (physical or mental) that has lasted or will last at least 60 days, those over 65 waiting for federal SSI payments, those who have been found ineligible for federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) but still meet EAEDC eligibility requirements, those caring for an unrelated child, those participating in a Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission program, and those caring for an incapacitated individual. Local data is not available, but 166,128 individuals were served by this program in Massachusetts in 2013.
The Massachusetts State Supplement Program (SSP) provides additional income for individuals who are receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is a program of the Social Security Administration that provides support to people who are age 65 or older, blind, or disabled.
Under the Plan for Achieving Self Support (PASS), participants may set aside income and/or resources for a specified period of time while on public assistance in order to attain a work goal (e.g., job training).
Do you know of a program or policy designed to address these challenges? Contact us so that we may share it here.
Data sources and methods
- SNAP participation rates were taken from the 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-year Estimates. That data can be accessed here.
- Social Security rates also obtained from 2011-2015 ACS.
- Data on LIHEAP participation was obtained from the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, Commonwealth of Massachusetts. More information can be found here.
- Public Insurance enrollment information was obtained from 2010-2014 American Community Survey 5-year Estimates. That data can be accessed here.
- Data on public housing units and housing choice vouchers was obtained from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. More information can be found here.