Welfare Reform:

States' Implementation Progress and Information on Former Recipients

T-HEHS-99-116: Published: May 27, 1999. Publicly Released: May 27, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed: (1) states' implementation of welfare reform; (2) the status of children and families leaving welfare; and (3) key issues involved in assessing the success of welfare reform.

GAO noted that: (1) GAO's work shows that states are transforming the nation's welfare system into a work-focused, temporary assistance program for needy families; (2) many states are refocusing their programs on moving people into employment rather than signing them up for monthly cash assistance; (3) to better support this new work focus, many states are changing how their offices and workers do business, expanding the roles of welfare workers to include helping clients address and solve problems that interfere with employment; (4) these changes, made in times of strong economic growth, have been accompanied by a 45-percent decline in the number of families receiving welfare--from a peak of about 5 million families in 1994 to fewer than 3 million families as of December 1998; (5) caseload reductions serve as only one indication of progress in meeting the goals of welfare reform, however; (6) early indications from GAO's review of state-sponsored studies in seven states conducted at various periods from 1995 to 1998 are that most of the adults who left welfare were employed at some time after leaving the rolls, often at low-paying jobs; (7) there was little evidence of increased incidence of homelessness or of children entering foster care after families left welfare, in the few cases in which these studies addressed these issues; (8) however, much remains unknown about the economic status and well-being of most former welfare families nationwide; (9) many efforts are under way to provide more information on the families who have left welfare and the effects of welfare reform; and (10) as this information becomes available, it will permit a more comprehensive assessment of welfare reform, which will need to address the following key issues: (a) how do low-wage earners and their families fare after leaving welfare for work; (b) what is happening to eligible families seeking welfare who are provided other forms of aid, such as job search assistance, instead of welfare or other aid; (c) how effectively are states working with hard-to-serve welfare recipients who remain on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families rolls; and (d) how would an economic downturn affect states' welfare reform programs.

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