What Are the Costs of Family Fragmentation?

The costs of family fragmentation for 2011 alone amounted to a $1 trillion 30 billion expense.  See http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/10/federal-spending-by-the-numbers-2012 According to CNBC, government support – or welfare - makes up one third of U.S. wages.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, one in seven U.S. residents received food stamps in 2011. Now at the end of 2012 we are approaching one in four residents relying on food stamps. According to the WSJ, food stamps increased by 70% over the last four years. You may have heard some or all of these statistics, but you may not understand how these numbers relate to the relationship with the State to the Family – and what this costs each state.

Government support in America is an emergent trend.  It supports nearly 40 million people, and is largely observable in broken households.  This phenomenon is creating “a nation of welfare families,” (Stephanie Coontz, Harper Magazine). These families are fragmented, broken, or never formed, relying on state and federal financial assistance for their very survival.

Just three of those expenses are key to understanding why these costs are so high: TANF, SNAP, and WIC.  In considering the cost fluctuations of family fragmentation, let’s focus today on just three main programs: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); and Women, Infants and Children programs (WIC).  Each program has unique requirements and objectives in providing resources for fragmented families.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) was created under the welfare reform legislation of 1996. Intended to replace previous welfare plans known as the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training (JOBS) program, and the Emergency Assistance (EA) program, TANF is a federal block grant to States, Territories, and Tribes. The four purposes of TANF include 1) assisting needy families so that children can be cared for in their own homes; 2) reducing the dependency of needy parents by promoting job preparation, work and marriage; 3) preventing out-of-wedlock pregnancies; and 4) encouraging the formation and maintenance of two-parent families. Effectuating these four main goals through various means, TANF also has a work requirement, as recipients of TANF funds must work as soon as they are job ready or no later than two years after coming on assistance. With a five-year maximum benefit period for participants, TANF also requires States to have programs that provide on-the-job training, assistance in job search and job readiness, community service opportunities, vocational training, and even child care services for individuals participating in community service.  The Obama Administration and Congress provisionally reissued Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) this past summer, but without federal work requirements.  Rather, any work requirements attached to TANF assistance are left to the individual States to determine as they deem appropriate. The result is individuals receive TANF only if they remain unemployed, and do not become part of an intact family.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formally known as the Food Stamps Act, is run by the Department of Agriculture and has existed in some form since May 16, 1939. Over the seventy plus year lifespan of the program it has been molded and shifted to adapt to changing times and demands of the nation; the main goal of the program, however, to provide assistance to needy people and families, has remained the same. The Farm Bill of 2008 renewed commitment of federal funds to food assistance, increasing it by $10 billion over the next ten years in the Food Conservation and Energy Act of 2008. Furthermore, that bill changed the name of the program from the Food Stamp Act to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, now SNAP, in order to decrease what Congress felt was an increasing stigmatization of recipients. The 2009 Stimulus Act poured billions of dollars into the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – the new name for food stamps - funded through EBT cards). 45 million people, or one out of seven, received SNAP in 2011 for a national cost of $72 billion. Today, 47.2 million people are on SNAP.  SNAP has also become fairly accessible – largely due to the use of the EBT card - and has grown dramatically over the past four years, and is expected to see continued substantial growth into 2014.

Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) was established as a pilot program in 1972 and made permanent in 1974. WIC’s mission is “to safeguard the health of low-income women, infants, and children up to age five who are at nutrition risk by providing nutritious foods to supplement diets, information on healthy eating, and referrals to health care.” WIC is offered to a subsection of SNAP recipients, low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, who need additional assistance in the form of food, health care referrals, and nutrition education.  The program to provide supplemental nutrition to pregnant women, mothers and their new born children, Women Infants and Children (WIC) offers money only to those who are unattached to an intact family.

These programs are designed to provide assistance for families, but they have worked to effectively trap those families into government dependence. This welfare reliance has also added to a U.S. poverty rate that is near a 20 year high. Government reliance creates a cycle of poverty embedded in family fragmentation. It forces individuals to avoid becoming part of an intact and stable family – because if they do, they will lose their government benefits.

Designed by the federal government, these support programs are intended to stand in the gap for fragmented families, and are implemented by the states via federal mandate,[1] and have become a regular part of states’ budgets.  Taxpayer costs are driven by increases in poverty from the continued family fragmentation these programs unintentionally promote, as poverty is the “most widely accepted and best quantified consequence of divorce and unmarried childbearing.” These programs result in an increase of expenditures at all levels - local, state, and federal – and present direct costs to taxpayers. This is just one of the programs considered as a cost of family fragmentation.

In addition to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)(previously known as Food Stamps), taxpayer funded programs designated as indicators of family fragmentation include Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Housing Assistance,  Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Medicaid, Women, Infants, and Children assistance (WIC), Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Child Welfare programs, Head Start, School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, and the Justice System. 

All of these programs provide financial support to broken, indigent families.  Together they form a bureaucratic behemoth bleeding an endless money stream from federal and state taxpayer sources.

Each consecutive post for the next several weeks will focus on the costs by state.  Watch for your state to find out how much taxpayers in your state are paying for broken families. 

[1] For an explanatory examination of how the federal benefits work with state implementation, see Gina Adams, Pamela A. Holcomb, Kathleen Snyder, Robin Koralek, and Jeffrey Capizzano, Child Care Subsidies for TANF Families: The Nexus of Systems and Policies, at Urban.org (Apr. 10, 2006),http://www.urban.org/publications/311305.html.

1 comment:

  1. In my experience these programs also can contribute to the actual breaking of families. I worked for a nonprofit organization for 6 years that sought to help families with children with sever medical problems. While working for them, I saw many husbands quit good jobs because their job precluded them from being eligible for government assistance in paying for their child's exorbitant medical expenses. We watched good men sink into depression, addiction, and get into legal trouble because in their desperation for help with medical bills they had compromised their dignity. This caused great damage to their marriages and family units as a whole.