The enduring impact of welfare reform, 20 years later

From The Washington Post:

Twenty years ago, President Clinton kept a promise. “I have a plan to end welfare as we know it,” he had said in a television spot during his campaign for office. He did, on Aug. 22, 1996.

The law that the president signed that day, together with other policies enacted by Congress and the states, profoundly changed the lives of poor Americans. It was intensely controversial at the time – a controversy that is heating up again today. New data on the hardships of poverty in the aftermath of the recent recession have exposed what critics say are shortcomings of welfare reform.

Clinton ended the traditional welfare system, called Aid to Families with Dependent Children, under which very poor Americans were effectively entitled to receive financial support from the federal government. In the new system, known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, applicants must meet a range of strict requirements that vary by state in order to get help — working, volunteering, looking for a job or participating in skills training.

Here are nine things we know about how the lives of America’s poor have changed.

After Clinton signed the reform, Americans left welfare rolls in droves. People receiving federal welfare payments fell by half in four years, to 6.3 million in 2000.

The decline had begun a couple of years previously, as states made changes to their policies ahead of the implementation of the new federal law. The rolls had reached their apex of 14.2 million in 1994.

Despite shrinking welfare rolls, the federal government spent more on programs that help the poor.

Part of the reason was that, under the reform, states could redirect that federal money to programs other than welfare, such as child care, college scholarships and programs that promote marriage as a way to prevent poverty.

Tax credits for the poor also maintained overall cash assistance at a stable level, and programs such as food stamps expanded — especially during …

Continue Reading