Restoring the Entrails of Welfare Reform

With Zachary Parolin — 2017, Journal of Poverty and Public Policy

Abstract:

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 famously “ended welfare as we [knew] it” by replacing the state-operated Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program with a revised funding scheme called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). In the summer of 2012, controversy erupted over a memorandum issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), concerning state options for TANF performance reporting. Opponents of the Obama administration claimed the policy initiative specified in the memorandum signaled a fundamental change in direction of the national welfare policy established by PRWORA—that it “gutted” welfare reform. The memorandum has not (as of 2016) been rescinded, and the issues raised in the ensuing controversy remain unresolved. We review the controversy. We argue that while there is some justification in criticism of the Obama administration’s strategy, the initiative addressed an important problem: the inadequacy of the program’s performance measure given the variation in resources available to states in meeting the program’s goals. The ACF memo was in our judgment a responsible step toward finding methods for improving TANF performance and, as conducted, the guts debate retarded this search.

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The Impacts of Self-Sufficiency Interventions on Recipients of Rental Housing Subsidies: An Exploratory Analysis of Data from Selected Randomized Controlled Trials

The Impacts of Self-Sufficiency Interventions on Recipients of Rental Housing Subsidies: An Exploratory Analysis of Data from Selected Randomized Controlled Trials (with James Riccio). Prepared for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. January 14, 2015.

This working paper explores the effects of various employment-advancement or antipoverty initiatives on labor market outcomes for participants in those programs who were also recipients of government rental subsidies. The findings are based on exploratory secondary analyses of data from a collection of randomized trials for which MDRC served as the evaluator. The purpose of these secondary analyses was to produce evidence that could help guide planning for future programs aiming to help housing-assistance recipients obtain, sustain, and advance in employment. The findings show that some interventions produced no effects on tenants’ employment and earnings, while others had some positive effects, but these were primarily limited to particular subgroups. Moreover, most tenants who benefited from the interventions remained a long way from self-sufficiency, suggesting the importance of continuing to develop and test more innovative approaches. The analysis was supported by a Research Partnerships Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), with matching funds from the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

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The TANF Resources Problem

With David Meni — Forthcoming (2017), Journal of Poverty and Public Policy.

2016 marks the twentieth anniversary of passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). Among other things, PRWORA replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children program (AFDC) with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Whereas a federal support for AFDC was an open-ended matching grant, TANF is funded with a block grant from the federal government combined with a “Maintenance of Effort” obligation for states. The block grant and MOE contributions are set for the most part at nominal levels from the mid-1990s. This paper looks at recent trends in TANF funding compared to trends in prevalence of child poverty. Compared to other work with similar intent, the novelty here lies in use of a more comprehensive poverty measure, incorporation of adjustments for interstate variation in prices, and a minor exploration of the connection between TANF resources and state fiscal capacity. Over the past decade inequality in state resources per poor child has increased. The disparities are great, making application of common performance standards without adjustment for resources questionable. Options for reform include separation of federal support for income maintenance from support for the various other programs that now garner well over half of TANF funding.

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Activation and Reform in the United States: What Time has Told

Activation and Reform in the United States:  What Time has Told. (co-authored with Theresa Anderson and Katharine Kairys)

Chapter in Activation or Workfare? Governance and Neo-Liberal Convergence. Oxford University Press, 2014. Edited by Ivar Lødemel and Amílcar Moreira. Click here for a link to the chapter.

Memoirs of a Welfare Warrior: Book Review

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Book review of:
Work over Welfare: The Inside Story of the 1996 Welfare Reform Law, by Ron Haskins. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 2006, 450 pp., $32.95 hardcover.


August 22, 2006, marked the tenth anniversary of President Clinton’s signing of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, called, as Washington insists, PRWORA. PRWORA famously replaced welfare as we knew it, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Welfare policy history is told in many books; Work over Welfare is surely one of the best and most likely to become part of the enduring record of what many consider a watershed event in American social policy. Students of the policy-making process, the Congress, welfare programs, and welfare policy analysis should read it. This review tells why, and counsels caution—not about buying the book, but about buying the story.

Suggested citation:
Wiseman, Michael. “Memoirs of a Welfare Warrior” (review of Work over Welfare: The Inside Story of the 1996 Welfare Reform Law by Ron Haskins). Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 26(4), Autumn 2007, 969-974.

Next Steps in Welfare-to-Work

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Chapter in David L. Weimer and Aidan R. Vining, Editors, Investing in the Disadvantaged: What We Know, and What We Need to Know, about the Benefits of Social Policies. Washington: Georgetown University Press, 2008.

Welfare-to-work policies seek to build human capital by encouraging and facilitating greater or more beneficial participation in labor markets. Effective policies not only increase income but also generally raise the return to additional human capital investment. What are possibly effective policies? How can we know if they would be effective? How do we know if they are desirable?

In this chapter I answer the first two questions by proposing several policy demonstrations. Each of the demonstrations is motivated to some extent by existing research. Its execution would generate information that would enable researchers to determine its effectiveness. I answer the third question by reviewing the application of cost-benefit analysis (CBA) to the Minnesota Family Investment Program, one of the most important state initiatives in the welfare policy area in terms of breadth of assessment and contribution to policy development.

I propose three demonstrations: first, an experiment with subsidized third-party provision of strategic financial advice and support for working low-income families; second, coordinated state experimentation with a transitional incentive package for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); and third, an employment intervention for TANF applicants and recipients with substantial disabilities. There is a common theme to these proposals. Each involves changes in factors that influence both what is gained from human capital currently possessed and from additional investment in skills and reputation for targeted 2 families. For working families, the third-party advisor demonstration targets access to benefits, information, and sense of personal control. The transitional incentive package demonstration intends to rekindle state interest in active efforts to improve TANF policies that influence incentives to work. The employment intervention creates an incentive for refocusing the attention of TANF applicants and recipients with substantial disabilities on habilitation and skill development rather than benefits acquisition. All three involve uncertain benefits or costs about which a well-designed experiment should produce considerable information.

Suggested citation:
Wiseman, Michael. “Next Steps in Welfare-to-Work,” Chapter 11 in David L. Weimer and Aidan R. Vining, Editors, Investing in the Disadvantaged: Assessing the Benefits and Costs of Social Policies. Washington: Georgetown University Press, 2009, 187-204.