NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Evaluating Waivers For State Welfare Reform

January 22, 2001

Beginning in 1962, Section 1115 of the Social Security Act allowed individual states to seek waivers from specific provisions of the act, thus allowing them to implement welfare experiments or demonstration projects to reduce welfare, get jobs for recipients and advance the goals of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. During the Bush and Clinton administrations, 44 states and the District of Columbia received waivers.

The waivers ranged from relatively minor changes, such as changes in the limits on assets that a household could maintain and still remain eligible for welfare, to very radical innovations, such as the imposition of time limits on cash benefits or the denial of additional benefits for more children -- so-called family caps. Most of the waiver requests were aimed at making work more attractive to AFDC recipients.

These state welfare experiments yielded mixed results. For example,

  • Experimental programs in Florida and Indiana that limited cash assistance to 24 months in a 60 month time period tended to reduce the length of time on welfare rolls and paid out less, compared to the control groups.
  • In Arkansas, "family caps" made no significant difference birth rates among recipients.
  • In New Jersey, evaluators found a statistically significant reduction in births and a statistically significant increase in abortions among women on welfare who were subject to a family cap -- with a stronger impact on new clients compared to longer-term welfare recipients.
  • Attempts to influence school attendance and educational attainment among children living in AFDC households were not entirely successful.

Many of the Section 1115-waivered demonstrations and initiatives generated innovative ideas that found their way into the national welfare reform discussions that arose between 1994 and 1996.

Source: Carol Harvey, Michael J. Camasso and Radha Jagannathan, "Evaluating Welfare Reform Waivers Under Section 1115," Journal of Economic Perspectives, Fall 2000.


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