Jo Anne B. Ross

From the August 1985 issue of the Social Security Bulletin

small photo of Jo Anne Ross


Jo Anne B. Ross is SSA's Associate Commissioner for the Office of Family Assistance. She is responsible for the operation of the Nation's largest cash assistance welfare program, aid to families with dependent children (AFDC), as well as the low income home energy assistance and emergency repatriation programs.

"AFDC--It's Our Birthday, too!"

A lot of people don't realize that among the Social Security Administration's many functions is administration of the aid to families with dependent children (AFDC) program. It was created in the original Social Security Act 50 years ago, so it's AFDC's birthday, too.

In creating the AFDC program, the Federal Government for the first time assumed responsibility for directly helping States provide for the economic security of the children identified as most vulnerable--those who become destitute when deprived of the support of a parent by virtue of death, desertion or incapacity.

Most importantly, the Act laid the foundation for encouraging the care of these needy, dependent children in their own homes or in the homes of relatives. The program offered financial assistance and other services to maintain and strengthen family life. The ultimate intent was to help parents or other relatives with whom the child was living attain the highest level of self-support and self-sufficiency possible.

Before AFDC was created, the most common way of caring for needy dependent children was to place them in institutions. Although some States had established programs for widows and mothers as early as 1911, they were inadequate to meet the needs resulting from the Great Depression of the 1930's.

But while Congress accepted the responsibility for helping to fund AFDC through grants-in-aid, it realized from the beginning that the program is primarily a State function, and, as far as was practical, had to operate within the State's financial resources and its approach to the problems of needy children.

Federal law and regulations set the framework for the program and some of its requirements, but States have considerable flexibility in the way they administer the program. For example, the need standard and level of benefits are determined by each State and vary widely across the Nation.

SSA's Office of Family Assistance provides Federal oversight and policy guidelines. Using a wide variety of methods, OFA assists States in formulating and improving their programs.

When the first grants to States for AFDC were made available in February 1936, only 12 States and the District of Columbia implemented the program Their combined expenditure for that first month was $1.7 million for 140,286 children in 56,836 families. Eventually, all 50 States and the territories implemented AFDC.

Today, the program serves 7.2 million children a year. These children are part of 3.7 million families which receive $14.4 billion in benefits.

AFDC continues to evolve as a program to meet the needs of those it serves. Over the past 4 years, the changes have been made to better meet the program's statutory obligation to help the parents of needy children "attain or retain capability for their maximum self-support and personal independence."

This progress has come in the form of work opportunities designed to help recipients who are able to work to find jobs or become ready to enter the job market.

The WIN Demonstration program gives States the option of transferring responsibility for the Work Incentive Program from the employment agency to the Social Welfare agency in order to bring work activities closer to the individuals they serve.

The Community Work Experience Program places recipients in public or non-profit private agencies so that they can learn job skills and develop work histories and references to take to potential employers.

Job Search provides assistance to recipients who may have trouble looking for and finding jobs.

Grant Diversion allows States to divert the amount of money which would have been used for the AFDC grants to subsidize employment to give recipients a start in the work force.

All of these programs have been well received by welfare agencies and employers, but, more importantly, by the recipients themselves. Welfare recipients, like all Americans want to be self-sufficient and support their families. AFDC is working to give them a chance to reach that goal.