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America’s safety net has alleviated severe poverty but comes with unintended consequences. For the most part, program eligibility is determined by household income and makes no adjustment for households where two married adults are both breadwinners. Said differently, households, where only one adult’s income counts toward eligibility, receive large subsidies, but households where two adults’ incomes count toward eligibility often receive no benefits. On paper, this bias is against two working adults who are both biological parents of the children covered under the program—because both adult incomes count toward eligibility if they are both biological parents. Meanwhile, the income of a live-in boyfriend goes uncounted toward eligibility. In practice, these rules stack against married parents more than unmarried, cohabiting biological parents. This is because of trends in how families report cohabitation, relative to authorities’ ability to track marriage.


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