State Policy Documentation Project



Summary of Policy Issues

Findings in Brief: Entitlement to Benefits

This section addresses whether there is any general entitlement to cash assistance benefits in state statutes or policies. The question of entitlement to other benefits provided in states is not considered here.

Federal Entitlement Repealed, States Have Option to Provide Entitlement

Under former federal law (AFDC) states were required to provide assistance specified in their state plans to all families who applied and who met the eligibility criteria established under federal and state policy. Section 401(b) of the PRWORA repeals that provision, explicitly stating that Part A of the law "shall not be interpreted to entitle any individual or family to assistance under any State program funded under this part." The legal implications of this provision and its relationship to constitutionally protected rights to due process and equal protection are uncertain. What is clear is that states, by statute or constitution, are free to create an entitlement to assistance, or to establish rules for the provision of assistance in the absence of an entitlement.

State policy may include a provision that specifies forms of assistance will be provided to all families who meet specified eligibility criteria. Such a provision might be accompanied by language expressly creating an entitlement, language explicitly indicating that no entitlement is created, or might make no mention of the term "entitlement." State policy may also specify that benefits will be provided subject to appropriation or to the availability of funds for the program. Such provisions may or may not specify what will happen if and when it is determined that sufficient funds are not available.

State Entitlement Policies

Five states indicated that they have an explicit entitlement to cash assistance in state statute: Alaska, Hawaii, Maryland, Rhode Island and Vermont. (Note that while New York does not report an explicit entitlement in state statute, the state constitution includes a provision that guarantees assistance to poor families and individuals.) Seventeen states have state statutory language which explicitly states that there is no entitlement to cash assistance. Twenty-eight states have no explicit statutory language regarding entitlement. Wyoming did not provide data on this issue to SPDP.

The majority of states (33) have opted to include explicit language in their state policies (statute or regulation) stating that cash assistance benefits will be provided to all families who are eligible. Twenty-three states report having explicit language in state policy that benefit payments are subject to state appropriation or funding. Note that some states indicate both that benefits will be provided to all eligible families and also indicate that benefit payment is subject to appropriation/funding. In those states, it is unclear how the two provisions are intended to be read together.


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This page last updated September 02, 2023

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