Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

State AFDC Rules regarding the Treatment of Cohabitors: 1993

Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

State AFDC Rules regarding the Treatment of Cohabitors: 1993

Article excerpt

The Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program was created to provide cash income support to needy children who are deprived of the support of at least one of their parents. Most AFDC families include a caretaker adult, usually the mother of the children, as well as the children. However, although such families were relatively easy to identify when the Social Security Act (which included legislation for the AFDC program) was passed in 1935, they have become more difficult to define over time as the types of families and households within which needy children reside have become more complex. AFDC units living with parents, with other family members, and AFDC mothers married to men who are not the natural parents of the children have become more common. In addition, cohabitation rates have risen in the U.S. population generally, coinciding with the decline of marriage rates. The presence of cohabitors in AFDC households, which is the focus of this article, also raises issues of eligibility and treatment of income and resources that were not present in 1935.

There have been a number of important judicial, executive, and legislative decisions in the past 20 years that have addressed either the treatment of cohabitors, the treatment of stepparents, or, more generally, the presence of individuals in the AFDC household other than the children and the caretaker adult. However, these decisions, and the Federal regulations that are based on them, still permit a wide variety of alternative treatments at the State level. Unfortunately, detailed State rules regarding the treatment of cohabitors are not collected by the Federal Government or by any other organization.(1)

In this article we present the results of a telephone survey of the States that was aimed to provide the first available information on these rules. In the summer and fall of 1993, we contacted all 50 States and the District of Columbia to collect information in a number of areas. First, we confirmed and clarified eligibility rules for cohabitors and stepparents under the AFDC program. We also clarified the relationship of eligibility for the AFDC-Unemployed Parent (AFDC-UP) program, which provides benefits to two-parent families, to eligibility for the AFDC-Basic program, which generally provides benefits to one-parent families. Second, we obtained information on the treatment of contributions from cohabitors to an AFDC assistance unit--both contributions in the form of in-kind payments for shelter and other items of need--as well as payments of cash. Third, we obtained information on whether States treat AFDC units with cohabitors differently than other units in any way independent of actual contributions by cohabitors.

In what follows, we first summarize the recent history of Federal policy affecting cohabitors. We then present the findings from our survey.

Major Judicial, Legislative, and Administrative Developments

Two well-known Supreme Court decisions, one in 1968 and one in 1970, shaped modern AFDC policy with regard to cohabitors--defined as men living in an unmarried "partner" relationship with a woman and her children.(2) In King v. Smith (1968),(3) the Court struck down an Alabama "man-in-the-house" eligibility rule. In the Alabama rule, cohabitation of a woman with a man not legally obligated to support her children was considered evidence of parental support and thereby constituted just cause to disqualify the children for AFDC. The Court argued that this defined "parent" and "parental support" in a manner contrary to the intent of the Social Security Act. The decision affected 19 other States in addition to Alabama.(4) Following King v. Smith, many States continued to have man-in-the-house budgeting rules that required the inclusion of cohabitor income in the resource base of the unit under consideration. In Lewis v. Martin (1970),(5) a California man-in-the-house budgeting rule was struck down on the grounds that without evidence of actual contributions, a cohabitor could not be assumed to be supporting the children. …

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