Work and Well-Being of low income families

Welfare Reform

What exactly is Welfare reform, and what led to its development? Welfare Reform can be defined as the movement that was brought in, with a great amount of success, to bring in changes in welfare laws, and to impose time limits and other work requirements on the beneficiaries and the recipients of the welfare system. Brought in during the 1990’s, welfare reforms were in actuality pushed into existence by the conservatives in the Republican Party. (Definitions of welfare reform on the Web) Welfare Reform is also the term that is used to describe a political movement in countries where there exists a social welfare system that would successfully manage to bring in changes, albeit in a conservative direction. (Welfare Reform)

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What happened to bring in welfare reforms, and what was the immediate and most important cause? It is generally stated that it was the re-authorization of the ‘Temporary Assistance to Needy Families’ or what is more popularly known as the TANF program prompted the discussion of bringing in more changes into the existing welfare systems. When the environment in question is analyzed, it is evident that before the new set of welfare reforms were brought in, the conditions were those of increasing unemployment, stalled economic growth in many sectors, a paucity of funds evident in the state and federal coffers, and an increased number of impoverished families. Therefore, shaping welfare reforms in such a way that all these and other similarly relevant issues are addressed was indeed a challenge, and the acknowledged need was to institute a set of reforms that would bring much needed relief to impoverished American families. (Before and after Welfare Reform: The Work and Well-Being of low income families)

It became evident that welfare reforms must be able to handle such issues as the intrinsic value of the ‘work first’ principle, the acquisition of the necessary skills to better one’s job prospects, the feasibility and the practicality of bringing in an increase in working hours, and participation requirements, especially when taken against the background of an increased demand for child care, and added benefits and reforms for those persons who are disabled, and must care for others. It was also obvious that the focus of welfare reforms must perforce be shifted from mere caseload reduction and poverty reduction measures; rather, that the focus must be on bringing in the much needed improvements into people’s lives. (Before and after Welfare Reform: The Work and Well-Being of low income families)

It must be remembered that Welfare reforms in the United States of America began during the 1990’s, and the starting point for the reforms was the state waivers that were brought in, and the culmination point, as of today, was in the so called ‘Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, or the PRWORA of 1996 at it is otherwise known. This is the Act that is representative of some of the most unprecedented and wide ranging changes in the policies that are meant for lower income families, after the much earlier 1935 ADC or the so called ‘Aid to dependent Children’. Furthermore, it is a widely acknowledged fact that after the welfare reforms act was brought in; almost sixty percent of mothers have left welfare, and sought out jobs. Statistics reveal that since 1993, welfare caseloads have dropped by more than fifty percent, all across the United States. (Welfare Reform, a Three-city Study)

However, statistics also reveal the sad fact that although mothers started to seek employment, a substantial part of the families of these mothers were actually much worse off than they were previously, because they could no longer avail of the non-cash assistance from the government, in the form of food stamps, Medicaid, child-care subsidies, and other forms of aid that they would have received when they were on the welfare system. It also became obvious that the PRWORA of 1996 was more than merely moving from welfare to employment; it sought to encourage the creation, and thereafter, the maintenance of two parent homes, and the reduction of out of wedlock pregnancies. (Andrulis; Duchon; Reid, 2003) widely publicized study on welfare reform and the various benefits and the innate disadvantages of welfare reform gave the opinion “one million children pushed into poverty,” which, according to the study, would be the direct impact that the new welfare reform would have on the general population of the United States. The ‘Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act’ offered states unlimited and unprecedented prudence and discretion in setting eligibility standards, and in creating more stringent standards of work requirements for those people who were receiving federal benefits. As a matter of fact, when the welfare reforms were introduced by the then president Bill Clinton, there were opposition from all sides, and a number of ministers and others tendered their resignations. The reason cited was that the benefits of welfare reforms would lie in the long-term behavioral changes that the reforms would supposedly produce, and that, in order to achieve this, short-term effects would have to be worse than ever before. (Winship; Jencks, 2004)

It must be remembered that the welfare reforms were to expire in the year 2002, and that particular year, the welfare rolls were less than half their size in 1996. It was also found that female-headed families were less likely to receive the benefits of welfare, than at any other time in the past. The sheer degree and the magnitude of the changes that had been achieved was amazing, and the official poverty rate among female-headed families with children, which in general is calculated at an even $14,000 for a woman who had two children in 2002, had decreased from a 42% to 34% during this time. Welfare reform has, since that time, been taken as one of the biggest success stories of all time, and a great social policy accomplishment. However, at the same time, it must be remembered that certain social scientists do tend to disagree about the fact of whether or not welfare reforms managed to improve he living conditions of female-headed families with two children at he very least, and at the same time, they too had to concede to the fact that welfare reforms did in no way increase material hardships and difficulties among single mothers and their families with children, and may in fact have helped to decrease the hardships that they may have had previously. (Winship; Jencks, 2004)

The reason was that the welfare reforms package was in fact a small part of a larger package of changes and reforms, entitled ‘Earned Income Tax Credit’ or the EITC, including a higher minimum wage, and also increased childcare subsidies. All these policies were inter-dependent on each other, and closely inter-linked. For example, the Congress expanded the EITC to help single mothers wit their daily living expenses, when they were working at low wage jobs, and this act managed to raise the minimum wages for these mothers within a mere few days after the welfare reforms was brought out. In a similar manner, the money that states were able to save by decreasing their welfare caseloads was often used to expand childcare subsidies, and when all these changes and reforms are taken together as a single entity, then it came to be known as the complete ‘welfare reforms package’. (Winship; Jencks, 2004)

However, welfare reforms did not produce more marriage vows, and also did not encourage the concept of two parent families, according to a survey. Further general opinion was that the issue of marriage needed to be addressed, if the government were to make attempts to wean more people off welfare, because it was a documented fact that fewer marriages have taken place from the time when the welfare reforms were passed in 1996, while at the same time, current policies are doing absolutely nothing to keep women from becoming, and also from remaining, single parents. (Campbell, 2004) As a matter of fact, it was obvious that welfare reforms led to an 8.3% increase in the employment rate of single mothers with children, in comparison with that of single women without children, and in the United States of America as a whole, the passing of welfare reforms led to an 11% increase in the earnings of single mothers, as compared to that of single woman without children. (Gilbert, 2004)

Take the state of Wisconsin, for example. The state welfare bureaucracy, both local and state, even today perhaps prefer the less demanding welfare conditions that had been present before the new welfare reforms were passed. Although it is a fact that many officials were able to recognize the advantages of welfare reforms, and also knew of the need for change, there were numerous individuals who vehemently opposed the new reforms, stating that they were afraid that they would only end up creating more hardship and difficulties to the already sad state of welfare. (Mead, 2004) However, despite all opposition, the welfare reforms were passed, and today, the social safety net has completely transformed itself, and work is to be taken as a necessary condition of cash assistance, especially for single mothers with children. The number of years for eligibility was decreased, and this led to more people being eligible for welfare. Employers were able to increase their labor demand, and the reforms made sure that the increased labor supply would be mandated, at least to a certain extent. (Bradshaw, 2003)

These were the overall objectives and aims of the welfare reforms, at a glance, in a hospital setup: to reduce the incapacity benefit claimants drastically, by about one million people, within a single decade, get 300,000 single parents back to work, and away from welfare, within a specific time period, and at the same time, increase by about one million, the number of people aged above fifty, into productive employment. It was also one of the main aims and objectives of welfare reforms that ‘Employment and Support Allowance’ would be able to effectively replace IB by the year 2008. Furthermore, all new claimants, according to the new reforms, would have to give ‘work-focused interviews’, and also at the same time, be capable of producing action plans and get involved in work related activities, unless they are either severely disabled, or if they are suffering from poor health and other related disorders, and they are therefore, physically incapable of working. If, for example, the able people were to ignore this criterion, then they would have to suffer from a payment loss, and these payments would resume, once the claimants gets back to work. (Welfare Reforms at a glance)

Meanwhile, all older people, that is, people aged above fifty and up to fifty-nine years of age, would be expected to seek out new an additional job seeking supports that are made available to them through the new welfare reforms, or the so called ‘New Deal’. Physically handicapped persons or people suffering from poor health would be able to avail of newer benefits, and at higher rates, but at the same time, everyone would have to undergo ‘assessment’. In other words, this would mean that even if, for example, an individual is certifiably ‘blind’ and must therefore be paid benefits; he would have to be assessed fist, for testing the severity of his condition, before he can put in his claims. In the same manner, the mental health capacity of the claimant would be assessed in line with the terms and conditions that are ‘prevalent today’.

A special unit would be set up, in order to conduct ‘periodic checks’ on those patients who were claiming welfare, and wherever needed, updated medical advice would also be offered. For a lone parent, welfare reforms brought in certain terms, like for example, for a single parent whose child was at least eleven years old, interviews and assessments would be conducted, at least once every three months, and those parents who had been on welfare for more than a year, interviews would be conducted once every six months or so, with the added advantage of ‘pilot schemes’ for lone parents, who are in the time period of one year of claiming welfare, because this would help them a great deal in the ‘adaptive’ stage that they are in at this time. (Welfare Reforms at a glance)

What is the future of welfare reform, and how would it be handled? As mentioned earlier, the federal welfare reform law, or the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, better known, as the PRWORA would have to be re-organized at a later date sometime in the future. When the act was initially passed in the year 1996, journalists, researchers, politicians, and others termed it ‘revolutionary’, ‘path breaking’ and also described it in other glowing terms. At that time, however, not much was actually known about the impact that some of the provisions of the reforms would have in the future. One of the more significant of these reforms was the fact that a five-year life time limit would be imposed on the number of months federal funds could be used to pay a family’s welfare benefits after they claimed it. This was in reality a completely daunting prospect; something wherein states involved would have to pay at least 50% of single-parent welfare recipients, which would come up to at the very least, a 90% of two-parent household heads, in 30 hours weekly work or related activities. (What works in Welfare Reform?)

These are generally considered to be extremely tough restrictions on the type and amount of education and job search activities that could constitute as successfully meeting the work participation requirement; and when incentives to reduce out-of-wedlock parenting and promote marriage were to be added to the already onerous burden, states found it a tough proposition indeed. Open-ended entitlements to benefits was abolished or changed to a great extent, and these were in turn replaced by a fixed dollar amount payable to each state. Although this meant that a state could now exercise great flexibility in the design and pattern of programs meant for the poor, and they could now use this flexibility in creative ways, as they saw fit, most states took the predictable course, wherein they set shorter time limits on welfare receipt and thereafter tightened sanctions for noncompliance, including use of full-family sanctions that would effectively end the entire welfare grant if the parent were to be unsuccessful in meeting the various participation requirements needed by the states. Soon enough, all states were allowing beneficiaries to mix work and welfare benefits, albeit on a temporary basis, and achieved this by increasing the amount of earnings, which would not be taken as against their benefits from the welfare reforms, if they were to take up employment anywhere. Some states also attempted to transfer almost one third of their block-grant money and funds to the cause of child welfare, childcare, and other related issues.

However, all this meant that there was great uncertainty and vagueness about whether or not states would be able to effectively meet the required new participation standards, and also if all the new infinitely stricter working standards and requirements, the harsher sanctions for non-compliance, and the time limits for availing of benefits be able to make things easier, or more difficult for the beneficiaries of the welfare reforms. Would children inadvertently have to suffer when the parents went to work, all of a sudden? Would work incentives eventually increase, or decrease the input, and would the reforms act as the final catalyst in issues related to marriage, childbearing, and child rearing for the poor people of the country, finally bringing in changes wherever required? The new participation standards brought in on account of the welfare reforms, the emphasis placed on caseload reduction vs. poverty reduction, and strategies for strengthening the marriage provisions were the main areas of disagreement, and these are still the issues that may be the root cause of the debate for the extension of or against welfare reforms. (What works in Welfare Reform?)

However, despite all these facts and figures, the fact cannot be denied that welfare reforms have been a success. What this success reveals is that even the most intransigent and uncompromising social problems may not be beyond one’s reach, and that in the same way as certain wrong policies and wrong moves served to ultimately encourage dependency, the right policies have served to encourage work and additional incentives for employment. It can be stated that welfare reforms have therefore succeeded in reducing dependency, and also in encouraging single mothers to work for themselves and for their children, and start off on the road towards self-sufficiency and the development of self-confidence. Although it is a fact that many more tough challenges lie ahead, and welfare reforms are by no means a closed issue, pro-work programs such as these must indeed be encouraged, and more such programs must be brought in too. (The past and future of welfare reform)


Andrulis, Dennis P; Duchon, Lisa M; Reid, Hailey M. (July, 2003) Before and after Welfare

Reform, the Uncertain Progress for poor families and children in the Nation’s 100 largest cities and their suburbs. Retrieved at Accessed 20 July, 2006

Besharov, Douglas. J. “The past and future of welfare reform” Retrieved at Accessed 20 July, 2006

Bradshaw, Jonathan. (2003) “Children and Social Security”

Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

Campbell, Kim. (23 June, 2004) “Welfare Reform hasn’t led to more marriage-yet” The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved at Accessed 20 July, 2006

Definitions of welfare reform on the Web” Retrieved at 20 July, 2006

Gilbert, Antoine Parent Neil. (2004) “Welfare Reform, a Comparative assessment of the French and the U.S. Experiences” Transaction Publishers

Jones-DeWeever, Avis; Peterson, Janice; Song, Xue. “Before and after Welfare Reform: The Work and Well-Being of low income families” Retrieved at Accessed 20 July, 2006

Mead, Lawrence M. (2004) “Government matters, welfare reforms in Wisconsin”

Welfare Reform, a Three-city Study” Retrieved at Accessed 20 July, 2006

Welfare Reform” Retrieved at 20 July, 2006

Welfare Reforms at a glance” (24 January, 2006) Retrieved at Accessed 20 July, 2006

What works in Welfare Reform” Retrieved at Accessed 20 July, 2006

Winship, Scott; Jencks, Christopher. (November-December, 2004) “Understanding welfare

Reform” Harvard Magazine. Retrieved at Accessed 20 July, 2006

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