The Safety Net Game: Chutes But No Ladders

Step right up and try your hand at The Safety Net Game:  Chutes But No Ladders to test your knowledge of the system of programs that are available to help people meet their basic needs and move out of poverty. It's more fun that trying to use the programs yourself. And there are prizes.

1: How many applications would a person need to fill out to receive benefits from the largest 11 safety net programs?

a. 1 to 2- I'm sure this is a streamlined process so we don't add additional burden to families already facing hardship.

b. 6 to 8- This fits the right balance between cumbersome and burdensome. If it were too easy, everybody would want to be poor.

c. None- Isn't that what those guys try to hand out to everybody coming off the Metro?

2: How long does the average monthly SNAP (food stamp) benefit last a family?

a. All month- The program is intended to make sure families don't go hungry and sacrifice nutritional quality for cheap calories.

b. 3 weeks- They should be resourceful and make that money stretch. Kids like lentils, right?

c. I think my neighbor catered her daughter's wedding reception with money left over from that month's food stamps. Chicken or fish? Yes, please!

3: How much did participation increase in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program (welfare) in response to the Great Recession?

a. around 60%- Given the huge numbers of jobs lost there must have been a lot more families in need.

b. around 10%- They probably make it harder to qualify during a recession so people look harder for work.

c. the triple digit range- As is my understanding, you must drive a Cadillac to receive welfare and the bail out for domestic car manufacturers made them standard issue, so the number must have surged accordingly.

If you answered all "a," that's cute, but I'm sorry to say that your faith in the functionality and adequacy of the safety net has not been rewarded. If you answered all "c," I'm sorry, but receiving public assistance is not like going on a Carnival cruise. If you answered all "b," CONGRATULATIONS! While (perhaps) not for the punitive reasons you state, the safety net is falling short of meeting need and increasing a family's economic security. You all are eligible to receive a copy of the Asset Building Program's recent analysis of the safety net and recommendations for supplementing our current policies with ones that help families build savings to buffer them from unexpected financial shocks AND create ladders of economic opportunity so that they can move out of poverty.

Thanks for playing!

Author:

Rachel Black is the co-director of the Family-Centered Social Policy program at New America. In this role, she leads research, analysis, and public commentary around a portfolio of issues devoted to creating a more equitable public policy approach to  advancing a new vision for social policy that allows all families to thrive in an era of growing risk, uncertainty, and inequality.