In Arizona, the name for the primary welfare benefits program is Cash Assistance. The program provides financial aid to the state's "neediest" families with dependent children, according to the Arizona Department of Economic Security. These families may receive a stipend from the state to help them pay for basic needs such as shelter and allow them to take steps toward regaining self-sufficiency.
Families seeking cash assistance must apply online or at their local Family Assistance Administration office, and then submit to a fact-finding interview with an FAA official. Eligibility requirements include status as a U.S. citizen and resident of Arizona, as well as income considerations. In 2011, a family is eligible for welfare benefits if its income after certain deductions does not exceed 36 percent of federal poverty levels as they stood in 1992. As examples, a two-person household qualifies if its countable monthly income is no more than $275, and a three-person household qualifies with a monthly income of $347 or less.
Monthly cash assistance benefits depend on household size and whether the recipients have an obligation to pay shelter costs such as mortgage and property taxes or rent. In 2011, monthly benefits ranged from $164 for a single recipient to $449 for a family of six in the category of those who have shelter cost obligations, with higher benefit amounts for larger families. Monthly amounts for those with no liabilities for shelter costs ranged from $103 for one person to $283 for a family of six. The state delivers benefits electronically through a card similar to a debit or ATM card. Recipients can use the card at many stores and cash machines.
In 2010, in response to a state budget shortfall, Arizona reduced the lifetime limit for receiving benefits from the federal standard of 60 months to 36 months. The only exceptions to the state limit are children in the legal custody of the Department of Economic Security who go into unlicensed foster care. This action followed a 20 percent reduction in cash assistance benefits to all recipients in 2009. Partially as a result of these steps, total cash assistance payments in an average month dropped from $9.5 million in 2009 to $8 million in 2010.
Making an effort to find work and generate a sustainable income is a key part of receiving cash assistance. Before starting in the program, applicants must sign a personal responsibility agreement verifying enrollment in the state's jobs program, compliance with the Division of Child Support Enforcement, immunization of children in the household and a pledge to ensure all children attend school. A failure to follow the requirements in the personal responsibility agreement leads to penalties. In the first month in which a family does not meet the requirements, the Department of Economic Security reduces cash assistance benefits by 25 percent. In a subsequent month, the reduction is 50 percent. A third violation results in the termination of cash assistance.