NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Welfare-To-Work Reform

August 8, 2003

The 1996 welfare reform law requires a minimum proportion of recipients in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program to work or actively search for employment.

To ensure that a high level of welfare recipients in New York City were following these requirements, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani approved a plan wherein all welfare applicants were immediately required to look for work, and those who didn't find a job were tracked by caseload workers who enrolled them in training, educational or drug treatment programs. The results of this "high engagement approach" were promising:

  • In December 2001, 67 percent of recipients were participating in constructive "welfare-to-work" activities.
  • Between August 1996 and February 2003, the welfare caseload declined by 57 percent.
  • The employment rate of single mothers without a high school degree—the group most likely to receive welfare—increased from 16 to 42 percent.
  • New York City's poverty rate was cut by one-fourth between 1995 and 2001.

Despite the exemplary success of welfare reform in New York City, most states have not sufficiently raised the activity level of welfare recipients; in 2001, 57 percent of all adults on TANF were idle. Experts say the welfare reauthorization bill Congress is expected to pass in fall 2003 will probably raise requirements.

Source: Jason Turner, " ‘Universal Engagement' of TANF Recipients: The Lessons of New York City," Backgrounder No. 1651, May 8, 2003, Heritage Foundation.


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