Welfare Reform:

States Are Restructuring Programs to Reduce Welfare Dependence

HEHS-98-109: Published: Jun 18, 1998. Publicly Released: Jun 18, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed states' implementation of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, focusing on: (1) states' efforts to require and encourage welfare recipients and potential recipients to assume greater personal responsibility; (2) how states are providing services to support the objectives of TANF; and (3) early reported data to assess states' progress in achieving program objectives.

GAO noted that: (1) consistent with the thrust of the federal welfare reform law, states are moving away from a welfare system focused on entitlement to assistance to one that emphasizes finding employment as quickly as possible and becoming more self-sufficient; (2) in the seven states GAO visited, welfare offices are generally being transformed into job placement centers; (3) adults with mental and physical impairments and those caring for small children are less likely than before to be exempt from participating in work activities; (4) in the states GAO reviewed, the average proportion of adult recipients required to participate in work activities increased; (5) to reinforce the expectation that welfare is temporary, states have established time limits on receiving cash assistance and have modified various policies to help make welfare recipients financially better off if they obtain jobs than if they do not; (6) states also have devised strategies to reduce the need for monthly cash assistance; (7) states also have modified their programs to better support welfare recipients in becoming more self-sufficient; (8) in their efforts to change the culture of welfare offices, states are expanding welfare workers' roles by shifting their priorities from determining eligibility and cash assistance levels to helping recipients obtain work and become more self-sufficient; (9) at the same time, states plan to use some of the additional budgetary resources available under the welfare reform law to enhance support services; (10) moreover, some states have given local administrative entities greater flexibility to design welfare-to-work programs tailored to the needs of their recipients; (11) implementing all these changes has not been quick or easy: among the most challenging and widespread implementation issues reported by the states have been training staff to perform their new roles and finding ways to involve recipients with multiple barriers to participation in work activities; (12) it is too early to draw definitive conclusions about the success of states' programs because it is uncertain how states' programs will perform as more of the most job-ready recipients leave welfare and states face increasing proportions of recipients with multiple problems, or if the current strong economy undergoes a major downturn; (13) moreover, little is known about program impacts; and (14) future monitoring of states' programs will need to focus on areas such as job retention and earnings progression, children's welfare, and family stability.

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