Eligibility for social services is generally based on income and such considerations as disabilities and child welfare. While the bulk of funding for cash aid to families is provided through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, the states administer the aid and determine which residents qualify.
Through TANF, the federal government gives block grants to the states, which chip in additional funds and set income thresholds, benefit levels and additional requirements, such as whether residents must work to receive assistance. Aid levels vary but are generally quite low. For instance, according to NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby, in 2003 the amount ranged from $269 in Alabama to $1,641 in Hawaii. In 2008, according to the same group, 30 states cut off aid levels at 30 percent of the federal poverty level.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services figures for 2014 show a federal poverty threshold of $23,850 for a family of four in the lower 48 states, with slightly higher levels in Alaska and Hawaii. According to the U.S. Senate Budget Committee, there are now more than 80 means-tested benefits programs in the United States. Other well-known programs include Social Security Disability (SSI), Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).