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program criticized by liberals and conservatives alike, the ease of its passage was still rather remarkable. State
government officials, particularly governors, had long been seeking waivers from the stringent requirements of existing
welfare rules, especially those of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) entitlement. During his campaign,
President Clinton had promised to “end welfare as we know it,” and in 1996 he found a willing partner in the Republicanled Congress.
Most importantly PRWORA’s Title I repealed the AFDC entitlement, replacing it with the Temporary Assistance for
Needy Families act (TANF). No longer would individuals automatically qualify for a fixed payment set by the national
government. TANF is a block grant to state governments, a set amount of fiscal resources that states can allocate as
they wish, with some restrictions. States now have considerable discretion in determining eligibility and levels of
assistance. They can experiment with ways of reducing dependency through job training and placement, childcare, etc.
This increase in discretion made sense from a variety of perspectives. Clearly the existing system was not working.
Further, state populations vary greatly in terms of needs, and diverse state economies call for differing approaches to
facilitating employment. The fact that the amount of the block grant is fixed provides an incentive for states to be efficient
But it is also important to note that as opposed to most previous block grants, this one still imposed many rules and
conditions. These include a provision that to continue to receive full funding parents must find some work after receiving
twenty-four months of benefits, and face a five-year lifetime limit on the receipt of benefits. Other federal government
rules require recipient parents under the age of eighteen to live under adult supervision and a high school degree or
enrollment in a similar program. There are many more. David Walker concludes “Clearly this 502-page multifaceted
omnibus measure is neither a heavily devolutionary nor a continuously centralizing package of programs, but combines
elements of both.24
It is also important to note that the five-year PRWORA also was projected to produce roughly $50 billion in budgetary
savings over the five years for the federal government, with many of the reductions coming from lower spending in
Medicaid, Supplemental Security Insurance, and food stamps. Deficit reduction was an extremely important concern of
the Congress and the President in the mid-1990s, and at least one member of Congress has suggested that his
committee “was given a number and told to achieve it.”
Welfare reform in the US has to date been viewed as a great success. Its first year witnessed a 25 percent decline in the
number on welfare, progress that more than doubled in its second year. Some of this success can be attributed to
innovative state strategies, and some to the booming economy that has surrounded the reform’s implementation. Yet
there are two problems in evaluating the program’s success. The first is...
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