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Building a Foundation for Success: What does it take?

The vision of reformed welfare policy was always that of a one way street. Participants were to move from welfare dependency to a level of self-sufficiency, thus making receipt of welfare benefits no longer necessary. Passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) addressed the fear that AFDC promoted long term dependency by reducing the recipient’s ability to view themselves as self-sufficient (Sandefur & Cook, 1998).

The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) portion of the PRWORA was designed, in part, to “end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage (PRWORA - Section 401 a(2).” This “end” of dependency was reinforced by setting limits on the number of months one could receive cash assistance. While there were provisions for a small segment of the population to receive extended benefits, it was assumed most, when given the opportunity, would make the shift into permanent employment and not return to the welfare rolls. Unfortunately, for many welfare recipients this life script has not been played out as conceived.

The advent of welfare reform has produced a plethora of research evaluating various aspects of the new policies. It is still uncertain whether patterns of welfare use have changed with TANF and time limits (Born, Ovwigho, & Cordero, 2002). Prior to the 1996 reforms, approximately 42% of women return to welfare within 24 months after leaving (Harris, 1996, Sandefur & Cook, 1998). Post 1996 research has not revealed significant variation. Recent research has focused on the dynamics of use of public assistance, including factors leading to use and the reality for welfare leavers. In general this research treats total time on welfare as one unit, not recognizing time off and returns (Born et. al, 2002).

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Last Updated: 12/6/19