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Research and Public Policy Analysis

Southern Institute Research Shows Income Support and Other Benefits Help Low-Wage Families Meet Needs

Studies by the Southern Institute on Children and Families often involve personal interviews and focus groups with families here they are asked to share their views and are encouraged to make suggestions on what actions are needed to improve policies and operations. In Southern Institute studies on health and welfare issues, a resounding message from families has been that they need assistance in paying for child health coverage, child care and other needs and they would like such assistance to be related to their income. They are frustrated by public programs that provide benefits based on arbitrary time limits and other rules that are not related to their ability to pay.

An economic reality check demonstrates the income versus expenses predicament faced by low wage families. For example, the annual income for a family of three earning at the minimum wage (approximately 80% of the federal poverty level) is only $14,824. Given this income level, it is not difficult to understand how low-wage families are in a constant economic struggle to pay for housing, utilities, food, clothing, transportation, health care, child care and other basic needs. And it's not difficult to understand why they become discouraged when they encounter public policies and programs that fail to recognize simple economic realities.

In addition to implementing new strategies to assist low income families, states must move aggressively to utilize existing opportunities to bolster families who work in low wage jobs. The extent to which states take advantage of and promote available programs varies widely across the southern region.

There is help for low-income working families, but many are not aware that they may qualify. Benefits that are available to low-income working families include Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Child care assistance and Food Stamps.

To help publicize these benefits and basic guidelines about eligibility, the Southern Institute, with support from the states of Georgia and North Carolina, developed a series of brochures for targeted audiences. With support from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the brochures were replicated and localized in 16 southern states, and Spanish-language versions also were developed. In addition, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provided further support to develop six accompanying information outreach videos in English and Spanish for use with the brochures, including a training video on how to most effectively use the brochures.

Outreach brochures developed by the Southern Institute include:

Leaving Welfare for Work Isn't As Scary as it Seems (for families on cash assistance): This colorful brochure tells families that they can work full time and still receive some benefits, including health coverage. This is ideal for review with welfare families at redetermination interviews and in job readiness classes.

Have You Heard About Benefits for Working Families??? (for general community outreach): This brochure is designed to help families who apply for cash assistance to understand that they can receive Medicaid and other benefits without having to be on welfare. It is appropriate for distribution through schools, health providers, churches and other community organizations and to employers for dissemination in the workplace.

Facts for Employers (for employers of low-wage or minimum wage workers): This brochure provides employers with information on how to connect low-income workers to benefits that basically supplement low wages at no cost to employers. It is an effective communication tool for use with employers and business groups.

For more information, see the Southern Institute's report published in February 1998, Southern Regional Initiative to Improve Access to Benefits for Low Income Families with Children. Also, see The Relationship Between Health Benefits and Welfare Dependency, remarks by Sarah C. Shuptrine, President of the Southern Institute on Children and Families, presented to The White House Southern Region Economic Conference on March 29, 1995.


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Newnan, GA 30265
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