Few features of the 1990s welfare reforms have generated as much attention and controversy as time limits on benefit receipt. Time limits first emerged at the state level and subsequently became a central feature of federal welfare policy in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), which imposed a 60-month time limit on federally funded assistance for most families.
To inform discussions about the reauthorization of PRWORA, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services contracted with the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC) to conduct a comprehensive review of what is known about time limits. The project included a survey of state welfare agencies (conducted for MDRC by The Lewin Group), site visits to examine the implementation of time limits, and a review of research on time limits.
Though a simple idea, time limits raise a host of complex issues in practice. Many experts believe that time limits have played a key role in reshaping welfare, but the knowledge base about this key policy change is still thin. Few families have reached the federal time limit, and it is too early to draw conclusions about how states will respond as more families reach limits or how families will fare without benefits over the long-term, in varying economic conditions. (author abstract)