The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), passed in 1996, replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grants to states. Since that time, the federal cash assistance caseloads have dropped by over 50 percent, from 4.4 million in August, 1996 to 2.1 million in March, 2001. There is interest at the federal, state, and local levels in better understanding the circumstances of the unprecedented number of families that have left welfare, including their employment status, participation in public programs, and the overall well-being of both the leavers and their children.
A host of state and policy researchers have examined the well-being of families leaving welfare in the post-reform era. These studies vary widely in the populations they study, how they define a welfare “leaver,” the outcomes that they examine and how those outcomes are measured, and in their methodological rigor. Consequently, it is difficult to use these studies to draw general conclusions about the status of TANF leavers nationwide.
In an effort to address the above questions about the circumstances of welfare leavers and to facilitate cross-state comparisons, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) of the United States the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) awarded competitive grants to select states and large counties in September, 1998, to conduct studies of families that have left the welfare rolls. This report reviews and synthesizes key findings from fifteen of the ASPE-funded leavers studies.
The studies, made possible by an earmarked Congressional appropriation to study the outcomes of welfare reform, include both administrative and survey data on the well-being of families who left welfare. This synthesis includes information on welfare leavers’ employment and earnings, public assistance program participation, income and poverty status, material hardships, and child well-being. In addition to publishing reports, grantees constructed public-use files containing state or county administrative data and/or survey data. Public use data from several of the sites are analyzed in this report to examine key outcomes for subgroups that may not have been included in the grantees’ published reports.
Following the devolution of welfare programs to the state level, ASPE chose a research strategy that combined local flexibility in study design with some efforts to develop comparable measures across the studies in order to facilitate cross-study comparisons. There remain important differences in welfare policies, economic conditions, and the characteristics of leavers across the fifteen study areas that may affect leavers’ post-TANF experiences. However, despite these differences, some clear general patterns emerge. (author abstract)