TANF in Tatters: 15 Welfare Experts Reflect On The Controversial “Welfare Reform” Program On Its 20th Birthday
This month marked the 20th anniversary of the controversial signing of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), replacing Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), a welfare program that guaranteed cash assistance to families with children based on need, with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Under TANF, states received a capped block grant amount of federal funding regardless of population growth or economic conditions. Additionally, TANF created a five year time limit on the receipt of federally funded benefits; states could continue to provide benefits for families after five years but would have to pay for it out of their own budgets. Over the past few years, Legal Aid has highlighted the District’s recent struggles to craft a TANF policy that adequately addresses the many barriers to self-sufficiency TANF families face, including disability, domestic violence, and high unemployment for those with a high school education or less. These barriers are especially prevalent among families in Wards 7 and 8 where most TANF families currently reside.
But how has the TANF program played out nationally? The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law asked 15 poverty law experts to comment on the impact of “ending welfare as we [knew] it” and the lessons we can use to improve the program through a series of essays. Below, I’ve curated some of those insights (with some light editing for narrative flow) to chronicle the history of TANF. Read more →