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Heterogeneity at the Bottom: TANF Closure and Long-Term Welfare Recipients

Lifetime limits on public assistance were introduced by the United States federal government in 1996 as part of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Many former recipients are no longer eligible for benefits having reached their lifetime limit. Local and national studies of post-welfare reform TANF leavers describe their circumstances.

This study was conducted in a state that opted for a 36-month lifetime limit on assistance. Focusing on those most likely to be affected by the limit (long-term welfare recipients), it examined the post-closure experiences of recipients and their families. Specifically, it compared the characteristics and experiences of those who reached their lifetime limits with those of TANF clients whose cases were closed for other reasons.

Results suggest that among long-term welfare recipients several factors distinguish those who reach the lifetime limits from those whose cases are closed due to increased income and other reasons. Generally, recipients who reached their lifetime limits were less advantaged than those whose cases were closed for increased income. They were less likely to have a high school diploma or GED, had poorer work histories, were more likely to have experienced severe domestic violence in the past 12 months, and more likely to report mental and physical health problems. In short, clients who reached the lifetime limits were likely to have continuing needs for assistance and support.


Taylor, M.J., Barusch, A.S. & Vogel-Ferguson, M.B. (2006) Heterogeneity at the Bottom. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment,13(2), pp. 1-14.

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Last Updated: 12/12/23