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How Long Do People Receive Assistance?

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A recent report examines means-tested program participation rates, the extent to which the programs are used, and median monthly benefit amounts from January 2009 through December 2012 using longitudinal data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation. The means-tested programs included in the report include Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing assistance, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and General Assistance (GA).

This report examines the accumulated (not necessarily consecutive) months of participation in major means-tested programs for people who received the specified benefit type in one or more months over the 48-month period from January 2009 to December 2012.

These data show whether recipients tended to be short-term program participants (between one and 12 accumulated months of participation), long-term participants (between 37 and 48 accumulated months of participation) or somewhere in between. A means test is a determination of whether an individual or family is eligible for government assistance, based upon whether the individual or family has income and/or assets that fall below specified thresholds.

The amount of time spent receiving means-tested assistance programs varied by certain characteristics. People living above the poverty threshold, adults with one or more years of college and full-time working adults are most likely to be short-term program participants. Those most likely to be long-term program participants include people living under the poverty threshold, children, blacks, those in female-householder families, adults with less than a high school degree and adults not in the labor force.

The total combined median monthly benefit amount from TANF/GA, SSI and SNAP was $404. Median SSI benefit amounts ($698) were larger than those from TANF/GA ($321) and SNAP ($300). Median monthly benefit amounts were highest for those living under the poverty threshold, children, blacks, Hispanics and adults not in the labor force.

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