Fifteen Years After Welfare Reform Took Hold, How Well Does the Program Work?

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Document date: May 16, 2012
Released online: May 15, 2012

Abstract

Eight briefs examine barriers to employment among parents on TANF, the circumstances of single mothers with no earnings or cash welfare, reasons for the high share of child-only TANF cases, how TANF connects to the broader safety net, how state TANF programs meet federal work requirements, how employment and earnings can be improved for TANF recipients, how state programs can link TANF clients to education and training, and TANF's changing caseloads.


Contact: Simona Combi, (202) 261-5709, scombi@urban.org

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 14, 2012 -- A decade and a half after the work-focused Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) replaced America's longstanding cash-assistance entitlement, a wide-ranging review by the Urban Institute and MDRC assesses how well TANF works within the larger social safety net and to what extent it helps families receiving aid toward self-sufficiency.

Eight briefs examine barriers to employment among parents on TANF, the circumstances of single mothers with no earnings or cash welfare, reasons for the high share of child-only TANF cases, how TANF connects to the broader safety net, how state TANF programs meet federal work requirements, how employment and earnings can be improved for TANF recipients, how state programs can link TANF clients to education and training, and TANF's changing caseloads. "Welfare Reform: What Have We Learned in Fifteen Years?" by Sheila Zedlewski highlights the findings.

TANF, the centerpiece of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, replaced the 62-year-old Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program on July 1, 1997. In 1997, 3.9 million families received TANF. The number of families fell to 1.95 million by 2011. Total annual federal and state spending on TANF has generally hovered around $32 billion throughout the program's history (excluding one-time spending through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act).

The participation of eligible families declined from 79 percent in 1996 to 36 percent in 2007 (the latest data available), suggesting that many families are choosing not to receive TANF, do not know that they are eligible, or find it difficult to enroll. Estimates of the share of low-income single mothers who are disconnected from the labor market and welfare doubled during this period from about 12 percent in 1996 to 22 percent in 2007.

Today, states use 7 of 10 TANF dollars to pay for services that do not count as traditional cash assistance or affect the caseload counts: emergency assistance, child care, transportation, and child welfare services.

"Arguably TANF's most important function is to serve as a portal for access to other safety net programs, such as nutrition assistance, child care subsidies, and health insurance," said Sheila Zedlewski, an Institute fellow at the Urban Institute and the project leader. "In terms of cash assistance, it has been less responsive to an economic downturn than its predecessor."

In 48.1 percent of 2009 TANF cases, only children received benefits. A nearly equal 900,000 TANF cases provided benefits to parents and children. About 80 percent of parents on TANF have at least one barrier to employment, such as poor health or disability, limited education and skills, or responsibilities for disabled children. Research shows a clear role for improving the skills of adults on welfare, but it also suggests the value of balancing TANF's focus on work with job-specific education and training.

The summary and the briefs are

1. "TANF Recipients with Barriers to Employment," by Dan Bloom, Pamela Loprest, and Sheila Zedlewski;
2. "Disconnected Families and TANF," by Pamela Loprest;
3. "TANF Child-Only Cases," by Olivia Golden and Amelia Hawkins;
4. "TANF and the Broader Safety Net," by Sheila Zedlewski;
5. "TANF Work Requirements and State Strategies to Fulfill Them," by Heather Hahn, David Kassabian, and Sheila Zedlewski;
6. "Improving Employment and Earnings for TANF Recipients," by Gayle Hamilton;
7. "Facilitating Postsecondary Education and Training for TANF Recipients," by Gayle Hamilton and Susan Scrivener;
8. "How Has the TANF Caseload Changed Over Time?" by Pamela Loprest; and
9. "Welfare Reform: What Have We Learned in Fifteen Years?" by Sheila Zedlewski.

The first eight briefs were funded through a contract from the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families and are also available on their web site. The summary brief is part of the Urban Institute's Low-Income Working Families project, supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

More research about TANF is available at http://www.urban.org/welfare/tanf.cfm.

The Urban Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization that examines the social, economic, and governance challenges facing the nation. It provides information, analyses, and perspectives to public and private decisionmakers to help them address these problems and strives to deepen citizens’ understanding of the issues and tradeoffs that policymakers face.



Topics/Tags: | Employment | Poverty, Assets and Safety Net


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Source: The Urban Institute, © 2012 | http://www.urban.org