The passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) in 1996 dramatically altered the welfare system in America. Since 1996, there has been a remarkable drop in the welfare rolls and some of the lowest unemployment in our nation's history.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is the U.S. welfare program, providing cash assistance and other social services to some of our country’s poorest residents. In 2009, more than 1.7 million families received TANF.
The passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) in 1996, which the Reform Movement opposed, dramatically altered the welfare system in America. We asserted that true welfare reform would ensure a guarantee of child care, job training, health care, and nutrition assistance to help move people out of poverty and into long-term self-sufficiency; PRWORA did none of that. Furthermore, caseload reduction - not poverty reduction - was one of the primary goals of welfare reform. Since 1996, there has been a remarkable drop in the welfare rolls and some of the lowest unemployment in our nation's history. Evaluated by such measures, many have deemed welfare reform a success. Unfortunately, however, even while the United States saw extraordinary economic growth, the poverty rates and the income gap between the rich and the poor continued to escalate, leaving millions of Americans behind. Many of those who found jobs during the economic growth of the 1990s are now without work.
PROWRA devolved the responsibility for the administration of welfare programs from the federal to the state and local levels through the replacement of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program with the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant. Specifically, PRWORA replaced the federal guarantee to cash assistance with a time-limited strategy that emphasizes the value of work and personal responsibility.
The scope and potential impact of the 1996 welfare law were unprecedented. The authors of the bill focused on caseload reduction, work requirements, promotion of marriage and reduction of out-of-wedlock pregnancies. States were given a great deal of discretion in implementing this law.
The bill ended the federal guarantee of income assistance and cut $54 billion over six years from anti-poverty programs including food stamps, Medicaid, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). More than half the cuts -- $27.7 billion -- came from the Food Stamp Program. Other child nutrition programs, including child care and summer food programs suffered $2.9 billion in cuts. The welfare law also denied most program benefits to legal, non-citizen immigrants (undocumented immigrants were ineligible for most program benefits before the law was passed).