The federal time limit on welfare receipt imposed by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 was designed to create a sense of urgency for families to make the transition from welfare to financial self-sufficiency. Today the controversy originally generated by the time limit policy is a distant memory as states focus on meeting federal work participation standards and avoiding fiscal penalties
Despite the initial controversy over the time limit policy, surprisingly little research has been done on the topic. The few studies available have shown that those cases that have reached the time limit have characteristics differing from those of the remainder of the caseload (Bloom, et. al., 2002; Caudill & Born, 1997; Richardson, Schoenfeld, & LaFever, 2003). In addition, time-limited families may face a greater number of barriers to self-sufficiency than their counterparts who are able to end their reliance on cash assistance at an earlier point (Hetling, Tracy, & Born, 2005; Seefeldt & Orzol, 2005; Welfare and Child Support Research and Training Group, 2001; Zedlewski, 2003).
The University of Maryland has been in the forefront of examining this important issue (Caudill & Born, 1997; Hetling, et al., 2005; Welfare and Child Support Research and Training Group, 2001). Our most recent study compared outcomes for families leaving after reaching the 60 month limit to the outcomes for a matched comparison group (Hetling, Patterson, & Born, 2006). We found that time limit leavers fared worse than other leavers in terms of employment and recidivism, and these differences could not be explained by factors such as urban residence, exiting because of a work sanction, or having more children.
For policymakers and program managers, several key questions remain regarding the TANF time limit. In this study, we address four of the most critical ones:
1) What are the characteristics of families reaching the time limit? Have these characteristics changed over time?
2) What barriers to employment do time-limited families face?
3) What happens to families after they reach the limit? Do they remain on TCA? To what extent do they find employment?
4) What is the relationship between families’ employment barriers and outcomes?