Welfare Reform: What Works and What Doesn't

foodstampfastfoodDid the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, also known as welfare reform, go far enough to decrease government dependency?

Under the law, welfare ended as an entitlement program, recipients are required to begin working two years after receiving benefits, federal benefits are limited to five years (with loopholes), and other changes.

Some states were more successful at implementing the changes and producing positive results than others. The Heartland Institute compiled data (PDF) from the states to provide a snapshot of what’s working and what’s not.

In the nearly two decades since the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 was signed into law, the nation has seen a major reduction in the number of welfare recipients. The nationwide decline of 70 percent from 1996 to 2013, combined with evidence that most welfare recipients found work and were put on the road to economic self-sufficiency, is a major public policy success.

The most successful states saw drops of more than 90 percent in the number of TANF recipients, while the least successful states saw declines of less than 30 percent. There is similar variation in success in getting TANF recipients to work for their benefits and reducing poverty, unemployment, and teenage birth rates.

Heartland contends that integrating welfare and social services (one-stop shop), requiring recipients to work or “work-related activities immediately upon qualifying for aid,” cash diversion programs (lump-sum payments for short-term needs), lifetime limits on aid, and effective sanctions “could provide the basis for bipartisan reform.” Other principles include helping people move from dependency to self-sufficiency, pursuing equal opportunity, as opposed to equal outcomes, and increasing economic mobility.

Photo credit: Lance Robotson (Creative Commons) – Some Rights Reserved

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