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Closing Non-Participation: Who Gets Here and Why

As the eight-year anniversary of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) comes and goes, it is clear that “welfare as we know it” is gone. New elements of welfare policy such as time limits and participation rates have received much attention. The work requirements and time limits of PRWORA were based on the assumption that most people would be able to secure family sustaining employment and move off the welfare rolls with minimal support. The 20% exemption pool was provided for the rest (Danziger, 2002).

The impact of PRWORA has not ended with time limits and work requirements. As part of the implementation of new policies under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, there has been a dramatic increase in the types of circumstances that can lead to reduction or termination of cash benefits (Mathematica, 2003). The concept of “carrot and stick” is often used to describe the current work based welfare system. The incentives (or carrots), include supportive services such as child care and transportation assistance for work related activities. Sanctions (or sticks) are used for non-compliance with work and child support-related activities (Kalil, 2002). In theory, sanctions are meant to provide serious consequences for non-compliance, thus encouraging participants to fulfill all requirements and retain eligibility for the full cash grant.

Early in welfare reform it was assumed that individuals with multiple barriers would become highly concentrated in the caseloads as those more easily employed exited the system. Such has not been the case. One explanation given is that the hard to serve whose barriers have not been 1 recognized, are being sanctioned and eventually dropped from the caseloads because of the inability to display full participation in their employment plans. “The failure to identify problems puts the ‘hard to serve’ at higher risk of sanctions if their problems make them less likely to comply with welfare program requirements” (Danziger, 2002).

Researchers have been challenged to study whether sanctioning has more to do with an individuals lack of desire to participate or if unidentified and unresolved barriers are the major inhibitors to participation. Time limits intensify the need for rapid barrier identification, making provision of resources possible while a client is still eligible for services. This is not always easy. Seemingly less serious issues such as obesity, high blood pressure or other health problems related to poor nutrition are often overlooked. A lack of understanding of program rules and expectations can be a serious and very real problem for those with limited cognitive and social skills (Kramer, 2). Unrecognized minor barriers, when experienced in combination, can lead to great difficulty in program participation.

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Last Updated: 12/6/19