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Complex Rules and Barriers to Self-Sufficiency in Safety Net Programs: Perspectives of Working Parents

Publication Date
Pamela Winston, Nina Chien, Rachel Gaddes, Rachel Holzwart

This brief discusses the perspectives of a group of working parents on receipt of federal benefits. Based on focus groups, it examines program design and implementation, participation barriers, and factors that could help working parents more readily reach financial independence. Highlights are:

  • Most parents in the study were ambivalent about the programs in which they participated, finding them both valuable for supporting their families and frustrating to manage.
  • Program rules were widely considered unclear, intrusive, and often illogical or arbitrary, and many participants saw program reporting requirements as unreasonably demanding.
  • Parents said that program administration—including case manager actions—contributed to difficulties in gaining and maintaining benefits. Some, however, viewed interactions with program case workers and systems as helpful.
  • Most parents saw program benefits as inadequate for subsistence and for helping them achieve upward economic mobility.
  • Some study participants said they felt trapped by a system not actually intended to promote financial independence, and recommended greater investment in effective pathways to self-sufficiency as an alternative to what they saw as a fragmented current system.

Related Products:

Product Type
Research Brief
Low-Income Populations | Working Parents
Location- & Geography-Based Data
State Data
Medicaid | Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) | Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)