Making Welfare Work

Policy Backgrounders | Welfare

No. 143
Thursday, December 04, 1997
by Dr. Merrill Matthews & Kristin A. Becker

Principles for Making Welfare Reform Work

Table I - Reduction in Welfare Cases

Before federal welfare reform legislation was passed, 45 states and the District of Columbia had received federally approved welfare demonstration waivers.7 Some waivers were limited in scope to in-state pilot programs, while others were statewide. Thus most states and the Federal District were actively engaged in welfare reform, even if limited, long before Congress passed the national welfare bill. But not all have been equally aggressive or equally successful in implementing reforms. [See Table I.]

"The average decline in welfare rolls nationwide was about 24 percent."

Because of political and economic differences between the states, there is not and cannot be a single model for welfare reform. Success - and failure - have many faces. Even so, there are similarities among the successful states, just as there are among states whose caseloads remain high. What are the apparent ingredients for successful reform?

  • First and foremost, a serious effort to move welfare recipients into jobs quickly, preferably private-sector jobs.
  • A political commitment to reform that transcends one person or party.8
  • A willingness to extend some health care, child care and other social service benefits for a period after the welfare beneficiary takes a job.
  • A stress on personal, individual responsibility.
  • An attempt to integrate social reform - such as making sure teen mothers attend school - with welfare reform.
  • A reliance on private-sector services whenever possible.

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