Should Emergency Assistance for Needy Families Be Continued? If So, Program Improvements Are Needed

HRD-78-65: Published: Apr 5, 1978. Publicly Released: Apr 5, 1978.

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The Emergency Assistance Program, administered by the Social Security Administration of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), was established to provide financial assistance and social services to meet emergency needs of needy families with children under 21. The legislative history indicates that Congress intended that the program would assist families without available resources and that the assistance would be necessary to meet an immediate emergency need that would not otherwise be met. Assistance may be in the form of cash or such items as food, clothing, rent, utilities, or medical care provided or paid for by the agency administering the program.

Operation of the Emergency Assistance Program has been hindered because of conflicting interpretations of enabling legislation. The troublesome provisions pertain to recipients' eligibility and the type and extent of emergencies covered. As a result, participating states cannot rely on HEW instructions and interpretations, and because of this, at least four states have discontinued the program. Conflicts between HEW regional offices and the states often drag on for months because of a lack of HEW guidelines, uncertainties caused by litigation over the program, and insufficient HEW regional personnel to administer and monitor the program. Ten years after the program was enacted into law, HEW, the states, and the courts are still contesting the provisions of the law.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: The Secretary, HEW, should: (1) pursue efforts, through Congress if necessary, to resolve the definitional and interpretational problems hindering the operation of the program; (2) develop uniform guidelines for administering and monitoring the program; and (3) monitor states' programs to insure compliance once definitive criteria and uniform guidelines are developed. Congress should consider whether the Emergency Assistance Program should continue, and if it determines that the program should continue, it should review the positions of HEW and the courts concerning eligibility and the type and extent of emergencies covered. It should then, if necessary, amend the legislation to clearly indicate congressional intent.


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