Homeless Families Use Key Safety Net Programs at Greater Rate than Others in Deep Poverty

A research brief by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) titled Are Homeless Families Connected to the Safety Net? finds that homeless families with children in emergency shelters participate in key safety net programs like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), publicly funded health insurance, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at a higher rate than families in deep poverty generally. The findings also suggest that these programs alone are likely insufficient to prevent homelessness.

The authors used data on 2,282 homeless families in 12 communities participating in the Family Options Study (see Memo 7/13/2015). Study participants were homeless families with children who had spent at least a week in an emergency shelter before participating. These families were more likely than all families living in deep poverty in their respective communities to receive TANF (41% vs. 22%), publicly funded health insurance (86% vs. 82%), and SNAP (88% vs. 69%). TANF was the least used safety net program. In Atlanta, GA, one of the study’s communities, approximately 10% of all families in deep poverty received TANF.

Families did not become disconnected from their key safety net benefits after homelessness. Twenty months after a shelter stay, participation rates in publicly funded health insurance and SNAP were 85% and 86%, respectively. Participation rates in TANF dropped from 41% to 33% twenty months after a shelter stay, but remained higher than the rate for all families in deep poverty. Access to a permanent housing subsidy increased SNAP and TANF participation by 7% and 6%, respectively.

Participation in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) increased twenty months after a shelter stay for homeless families. Participation rates in SSI increased from 10% to 13% and participation in SSDI increased from 4% to 7%. The authors were unable to determine if families became aware of their eligibility and applied for these programs during their shelter stay or prior to it.

Are Homeless Families Connected to the Safety Net? is available at http://1.usa.gov/1WgtU0D