NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Welfare Reform Still Needs Improvement

May 17, 2002

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) was the most successful welfare reform ever, eliminating the welfare "entitlement" and cutting caseloads by nearly 50 percent since 1996.

However, some states have made relatively little progress in reducing caseloads. The key component of PRWORA - Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) - must be authorized this year. Some observers believe to build on PRWORA's success, the following reforms must be made:

  • Make a 70 percent reduction in the welfare rolls from their 1994 level the primary goal of TANF and require states that fail to achieve the goal to adopt specific work requirements -- because some states count the time recipients spend on non-work activities such as personal development and family counseling.
  • Make children the primary focus, and ensure that both parents participate in their children's financial needs, rather than allowing states to use TANF funds for employment assistance to non-custodial parents - most of whom are fathers not living with their children.
  • Create a pilot program that enforces the responsibility of unwed fathers for their children by entering a court order establishing paternity and child support at the time of birth, so that an able-bodied father who refuses available work can be held in contempt and fined or jailed.
  • Convert the portion of the Food Stamp program that funds benefits to TANF recipients, the working poor, and the able-bodied into block grants to the states - setting caseload reduction requirements that would circumvent the Food Stamp program's deterrence to self-sufficiency.

Empowering states to manage this portion of Food Stamp program dollars would be a strong incentive for them to manage the program more efficiently and effectively.

Source: Jonathon R. Hobbs (Welfare Reform Initiatives for the American Institute for Full Employment), "Four Welfare Reforms," National Center for Policy Analysis Brief Analysis No. 395, May 17, 2002.

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