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 The memorandum has not (as of 2016) been rescinded, and the issues raised in the ensuing controversy remain unresolved.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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Rethinking the Promoting Opportunity Demonstration Project

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA) mandates that the Social Security Administration (SSA) conduct a “Promoting Opportunity Demonstration Project” (POD) to evaluate the effects of altering the treatment of earnings in calculation of benefits for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries who return to work. The change proposed would increase work incentives for some SSDI beneficiaries but reduce them for others. However, because of other requirements contained within the BBA, the POD cannot produce reliable evidence on the impact of the innovation Congress envisions, and it unnecessarily replicates another SSA demonstration, the Benefit Offset National Demonstration (BOND), that is already well underway. This paper, prepared for the Social Security Advisory Board, reviews current policy, outlines the changes proposed for the POD, and shows why restrictions included in the mandate would prevent the POD from yielding results helpful for guiding policy. It also summarizes important insights already gained from the ongoing BOND evaluation. In light of these insights and the problems with the POD design, Congress and the public would be better served if the SSA were allowed to invest research funds and management effort elsewhere.

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Peter the Citizen

I am pleased to include on my website the work of “Peter the Citizen,” an ardent conservative deeply concerned about truth in policy making and policy assessment.  – MLW

Updated September 25, 2017

Papers

  • “In a Competition of Ideas, a Block Grant is the Worst Option: A Response to Lanhee Chen,” September 23, 2017 — View
  • “Senator Cassidy Thinks a Block Grant for Health Care is a Good Idea – That’s Not the Lesson from the TANF Block Grant in Louisiana,” September 16, 2017 — View
  • “A Note to Pre-Post Conservatives: You Are Not Fooling Anyone – Except Maybe Yourselves (and Some Politicians),” September 2, 2017 — View
  • “The FGA’s Simplistic, Misleading, and Irresponsible Report on Work Requirements in Kansas: A Sentence-by-Sentence Critique,” September 2, 2017 — View
  • “‘The Truth About Welfare Reform’ Won’t be Found at the Foundation for Government Accountability: A Response to Jonathan Ingram,” August 31, 2017 — View
  • “TANF is NOT a ‘Blueprint’ for Serious Policymakers: An Explanation for Nic Horton,” August 26, 2017 — View
  • “‘Welfare Reform’ New York Style: A Model for the House Budget Committee?” July 26, 2017 — View
  • “TANF Work Requirements are NOT About Work: An Explanation for Katherine Bradley and Robert Rector,” July 23, 2017 — View
  • “It’s Time for a Serious Conservative Welfare Reform Proposal: 5 Tips for Representative Jim Jordan,” July 16, 2017 — View
  • “Using Squirrely Data is No Way to Justify Conservative Policies: A Note to AEI’s Marc Thiessen,” July 8, 2017 — View
  • “The FGA’s ‘First of Its Kind Study’ Should Have Been the Last: An Evaluation Note for Pre-Post Conservatives,” July 4, 2017 — View
  • “Senator Mike Lee Should Read His Own ‘Welfare Reform’ Bill – To Find Out What’s In It,” June 17, 2017 — View
  • “The Welfare Reform and Upward Mobility Act: A Conservative Plan to Eviscerate the Safety Net (An Update),” June 11, 2017 — View
  • “Maine DOES NOT Show How to Make Welfare Work: A Response to Jared Meyer and Mary Mayhew,” June 4, 2017 — View
  • “The Failure of Conservative Welfare Reform is what ‘Traps the Poor in Payouts’: A Response to Adam Brandon,” June 1, 2017 — View
  • “TANF: A Great Innovation or a Massive Policy Failure? A Response to Arthur Brooks,” March 4, 2017 — View
  • “TANF Can’t be Reformed – It Must be Repealed and Replaced: A Brief Explanation for Angela Rachidi,” March 4, 2017 — View
  • “Losing Ground on TANF: AEI’s The Reach of the Cash-Based Safety Net Misses the Big Picture,” March 1, 2017 — View
  • “A “Super Block Grant” is a Super Bad Idea: A Response to Gary Alexander,” February 19, 2017 — View
  • “‘Wisconsin Works for Everyone’ as a Model for National Welfare Reform: Is Robert Doar Right?” February 12, 2017 — View
  • “Making Progress on TANF: A Response to Angela Rachidi,” February 12, 2017 — View
  • “Show Me the Evidence: Peter the Citizen’s Fight for Rigor and Results in Social Policy (A response to Ron Haskins),” February 12, 2017 — View
  • “Speaker Ryan Has Failed the Poor and the Sick: We Need ‘A Much Better Way,'” January 19, 2017 — View
  • “Did a Flexible Block Grant for Welfare Spur State Innovation? Absolutely – But That ‘Innovation’ Didn’t Help Poor Families,” January 14, 2017 — View
  • “Ten Facts Conservatives Don’t Want You to Know About ‘Welfare Reform,'” January 14, 2017 — View
  • “‘Wage War on Poverty, Not Poor People:’ A Comment on the Heartland Institute’s ‘Roadmap’ for Winning the War on Poverty,” January 7,2017 — View
  • “TANF is a Step Backward for the Poor and for Conservatism: An Explanation for Shawn Fremstad,” December 21, 2016 — View
  • “The Failure of TANF Work Requirements in 2015: The Need for ‘A Much Better Way,'” December 20, 2016 — View
  • “Making ‘Opportunity Grants’ Great Again: A Worthy but Challenging Prospect,” December 18, 2016 — View
  • “It Takes More than Bipartisanship for Enduring and Successful Policy: The 1996 ‘Welfare Reform’ Law is Not a Model to Emulate – A Response to Governor Jon Huntsman,” December 5, 2016 — View
  • “Making Welfare Reform Great Again: Five Recommendations for President Elect Donald J. Trump,” November 29, 2016 — View
  • “Does Making Welfare Much ‘Less Appealing’ Reduce Poverty?” November 29, 2016 — View
  • “Opinion Polls and Public Policy: Why Policy Details Matter,” November 29, 2016 — View
  • “The “Poverty Measurement Improvement Act”: A Small Step Forward, but We Can Do Better,” November 29, 2016 — View
  • “The Welfare Reform and Upward Mobility Act: A Conservative Plan to Eviscerate the Safety Net,” November 29, 2016 — View
  • “The Welfare Reform and Upward Mobility Act: The Epitome of Dysfunctional Conservatism –An Explanation for Rachel Sheffield,” November 29, 2016 — View
  • “Making Progress on ‘Welfare Reform’: A Response to Scott Winship,” September 30, 2016 — View
  • “TANF in Texas: The Need for “A Much Better Way”: A Cautionary Tale for Ways and Means Chairman Brady,” September 1, 2016 — View
  • “Welfare Reform: A Failure of Conservative Policymaking: A Response to Ramesh Ponnuru,” August 30, 2016 — View
  • “Making Progress on TANF: A Response to Scott Winship,” August 27, 2016 — View
  • “Pre-Post Conservatives Say TANF is a “Success”: Let’s Make It Even Better – A Possible Compromise,” August 24, 2016 — View
  • “TANF is a Massive Policy Failure, But Other “Liberal” Welfare Policies Reduced Poverty: A Response to Scott Winship,” August 22, 2016 — View
  • “The Failure of TANF Work Requirements in Wisconsin: A Note for Speaker Ryan,” August 22, 2016 — View
  • “Speaker Ryan’s ‘Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility Report’: The Need for ‘A Much Better Way’,” August 17, 2016  — View
  • “The Failure of TANF Work Requirements: A Much Needed Tutorial for the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute,” August 12, 2016 — View
  • “The American Enterprise Institute’s Proposals to “Improve” TANF: A Cruel Hoax on the Poor,” June 13, 2016 — View
  • “Understanding ‘$2 a Day’ Poverty: An Explanation for Robert Doar,” June 11, 2016 — View
  • “The 1996 ‘Welfare Reform’ has NOT Served the Poor or the Country: A Response to The Washington Post,” May 29, 2016 — View
  • “TANF in Michigan: Did We Really “Fix” Welfare in 1996? A Cautionary Tale for Speaker Ryan,” May 25, 2016 — View
  • “House Lacks Courage to Undertake Real Welfare Reform: A Response to Angela Rachidi,” May 22, 2016 — View
  • “Profiles in (Dis)courage(ment),” May 15, 2016 — View
  • “Republican Study Committee Blueprint on the Safety Net: It’s Time to Go Back to the Drawing Board,” May 14, 2016 — View
  • “Reforming ‘Welfare Reform’ New York Style: A Possible Doar-Germanis Compromise?” May 11, 2016 — View
  • “‘Welfare Reform’ Increased Poverty and No One Can Contest It: A Note to Conservatives,” April 24, 2016 — View
  • “Saving Speaker Ryan: 20 Reasons Why TANF is NOT ‘Welfare Reform,’ NOT a Model for Reforming the Safety Net, and NOT Conservatism,” April 24, 2016 — View
  • “The Failure of Conservative Welfare Reform: Insights from Seinfeld,” April 22, 2016 — View
  • “Will Conservative Reforms to the Safety Net Reduce Poverty? A Skeptical Conservative Responds to Scott Winship,” January 17, 2016 — View
  • “Which Safety-Net Programs Responded To The Recession? A Brief Response to Scott Winship,” January 17, 2016 — View
  • “The Need for Common Sense Conservative Welfare Reform: Ten Questions for House Speaker Paul Ryan,” January 6, 2016. — View
  • “TANF is Broken! The Louisiana Story: A Response to Representative Charles Boustany,” November 8, 2015. — View
  • “How to Really Discuss Poverty like Grown-Ups: A Cautionary Tale about ‘Opportunity Grants,’ the ‘Flex Fund,’ and ‘Serious’ Conservative Anti-Poverty Strategies,” November 4, 2015. — View
  • “TANF has been a massive policy failure – Let’s start over: A Response to Robert Doar,” October 22, 2015. — View
  • “$2 a Day – An Even More Complete Picture: TANF is ‘Welfare for States,’ Not for Needy Families,” September 27, 2015. — View
  • “TANF is Broken! It’s Time to Reform ‘Welfare Reform.’” Personal Statement of Peter Germanis. Working Draft, July 25, 2015. — View

Press Coverage and Citations

  • “The Return of Welfare Reform,” Tara Golshan, Vox, July 1, 2017 — View.
  • “How the Big Lie Works,” Sheila Kennedy, June 27, 2017 — View
  •  “Restoring the Entrails of Welfare Reform,” Zachary Parolin and Michael Wiseman, Poverty & Public Policy, June 2017 — View
  • “TANF at 20: The 1996 ‘Welfare Reform’ Law and its Impact,” Don Friedman, March 24, 2017 — View 
  • “Those Pesky Facts,” Sheila Kennedy, March 17, 2017 — View  
  • “Post-Election Federal Policy Update — December 2016,” Josh Protas — View 
  • “TANF: The Wrong Model for Medicaid,” Jon Peacock, August 22, 2016— View
  • “Welfare Reform and the Safety Net: Evidence Contradicts Likely Assumptions Behind Forthcoming GOP Poverty Plan,” Robert Greenstein, June 6, 2016— View
  • “How Michigan ‘games’ the welfare-to-work system,” Mike Wilkinson, Bridge Magazine, December 9, 2016 — View
  • “Labels Aren’t Analyses,” Sheila Kennedy, December 28, 2016 — View
  • “TANF, Peter the Citizen and ‘Less Appealing’ Indiana,” Sheila Kennedy, December 30, 2016 — View
  • Anne Jordan, “Making ‘Work First’ Work Better A Descriptive Analysis of Ohio’s TANF Program & Options to Improve its Cost-Effectiveness,” July 2016 — View
  • Zach Parolin, “The Sum of Its Parts? Assessing Variation and Trends in Family Income Support Across the 48 Contiguous United States, November 2016 — View
  • Skidmore, Max J. “How Successful has TANF Been? Taking Seriously a Thoughtful Analysis from the Right, with a Tip of the Hat to Peter the Citizen” (Editorial). Journal of Poverty & Public Policy, 8(4), 438-458.— View
  • “Yes, the ’96 Welfare Reform Reduced Child Poverty,” Scott Winship, National Review, September 7, 2016 — View
  • “The Decline of the American Family: Can Anything be Done to Stop the Damage?” Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, August 27, 2016 — View
  • “The Libertarian Case Against the 1996 Welfare Law.” Samuel Hammond, Talk Poverty, August 23, 2016 — View
  • “Twenty Years Since ‘Welfare Reform.'” Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer, The Atlantic, August 22, 2016 — View
  • “Block Grant’s Flexibility for States = Less Support for Families,” Wisconsin Budget Project Blog, August 19, 2016  — View
  • “‘If the goal was to get rid of poverty, we failed’: The Legacy of the 1996 Welfare Reform.” Dylan Matthews, Vox, June 20, 2016 — View
  • “The Failure of Welfare Reform.” Jordan Weissmann, Slate, June 1, 2016 — View
  •  ”Increasing Work Opportunities and Reducing Poverty Two Decades After Welfare Reform.” Sandra Danziger et al., Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 2015. — View
  • “From Welfare to a Work-Based Safety Net: An Incomplete Transition.” Sandra Danziger et al., Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 2015. — View
  • “TANF at Age 20: Work Still Works.” Ron Haskins, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 2015. — View
  • “Supplementing TANF’s Work Requirement: A Compromise.” Ron Haskins, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 2015 — View
  • “The Republican Party’s Strategy to Ignore Poverty.” Eduardo Porter, The New York Times, October 27, 2015. — View

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.

Sep.25

The American Earned Income Tax Credit

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Abstract:
While the U.S. Earned Income Tax Credit is well over a quarter-century old, its role as a major instrument of social assistance policy is a relatively recent development. This paper provides an overview of the operation of the EITC and recent developments in EITC-related analysis and innovation. Generally speaking, the lessons gained from the American EITC experience seem to be that earnings subsidies can be successfully administered through the tax code and that the EITC did increase labor force participation among lone parents. Anticipated perverse effects on labor supply of the credit phase-out have not been shown to be substantial. Understanding the connection between expansion of the EITC and the precipitous decline in the number of families receiving benefits from Aid to Families with Dependent Children and its successor program Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is complicated by near simultaneity between EITC expansion, state and national welfare reform efforts, and decline in unemployment rates. As experience with the EITC has grown, effects beyond labor supply are attracting attention, including consequences for saving and children’s well-being. American experience with the EITC is pertinent to consideration of policies intended to expand low-skill service employment in Europe.

Suggested citation: 
Wiseman, Michael. “The American Earned Income Tax Credit.” In (Austrian) Federal Ministry of Economics and Labour (in cooperation with L&R Social Research), Innovations in Labour Market Policies: Challenges in Times of Globalisation. Vienna: The Agency, pp. 123-133.

The TANF-SSI Connection

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Summary:
Interactions and overlap of social assistance programs across clients interest policymakers because such interactions affect both the clients’ well-being and the programs’ efficiency. This article investigates the connections between Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and TANF’s predecessor, the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program.  Connections between receipt of TANF and SSI are widely discussed in both disability policy and poverty research literatures because many families receiving TANF report disabilities.

For both states and the individuals involved, it is generally financially advantageous for adults and children with disabilities to transfer from TANF to SSI. States gain because the federal government pays for the SSI benefit, and states can then use the TANF savings for other purposes. The families gain because the SSI benefits they acquire are greater than the TANF benefits they lose. The payoff to states from transferring welfare recipients to SSI was substantially increased when Congress replaced AFDC with TANF in 1996. States retained less than half of any savings achieved through such transfers under AFDC, but they retain all of the savings under TANF. Also, the work participation requirements under TANF have obligated states to address the work support needs of adults with disabilities who remain in TANF, and states can avoid these costs if adults have disabilities that satisfy SSI eligibility requirements. The incentive for TANF recipients to apply for SSI has increased over time as inflation has caused real TANF benefits to fall relative to payments received by SSI recipients.

Trends in the financial incentives for transfer to SSI have not been studied in detail, and reliable general data on the extent of the interaction between TANF and SSI are scarce. In addition, some estimates of the prevalence of TANF receipt among SSI awardees are flawed because they fail to include adults receiving benefits in TANF-related Separate State Programs (SSPs). SSPs are assistance programs that are administered by TANF agencies but are paid for wholly from state funds. When the programs are conducted in a manner consistent with federal regulations, the money states spend on SSPs counts toward federal maintenance-of-effort (MOE) requirements, under which states must sustain a certain level of contribution to the costs of TANF and approved related activities. SSPs are used for a variety of purposes, including support of families who are in the process of applying for SSI. Until very recently, families receiving cash benefits through SSPs were not subject to TANF’s work participation requirements.

This article contributes to analysis of the interaction between TANF and SSI by evaluating the financial consequences of TANF-to-SSI transfer and developing new estimates of both the prevalence of receipt of SSI benefits among families receiving cash assistance from TANF and the proportion of new SSI awards that go to adults and children residing in families receiving TANF or TANF-related benefits in SSPs.

Using data from the Urban Institute’s Welfare Rules Database, we find that by 2003 an SSI award for a child in a three-person family dependent on TANF increased family income by 103.5 percent on average across states; an award to the adult in such a family increased income by 115.4 percent. The gain from both child and adult transfers increased by about 6 percent between 1996 (the eve of the welfare reform that produced TANF) and 2003.

Using data from the Department of Health and Human Services’ TANF/SSP Recipient Family Characteristics Survey, we estimate that 16 percent of families receiving TANF/SSP support in federal fiscal year 2003 included an adult or child SSI recipient. This proportion has increased slightly since fiscal year 2000.

The Social Security Administration’s current procedures for tabulating characteristics of new SSI awardees do not recognize SSP receipt as TANF. We use differences in reported TANF-to-SSI flows between states with and without Separate State Programs to estimate the understatement of the prevalence of TANF-related SSI awards in states with SSPs. The results indicate that the absolute number of awards to AFDC (and subsequently) TANF/SSP recipients has declined by 42 percent for children and 25 percent for adults since the early 1990s. This result is a product of the decline in welfare caseloads. However, the monthly incidence of such awards has gone up—from less than 1 per 1,000 child recipients in calendar years 1991–1993 to 1.3 per 1,000 in 2001–2003 and, for adult recipients, from 1.6 per 1,000 in 1991–1993 to 4 per 1,000 in 2001–2003.

From these results we conclude that a significant proportion of each year’s SSI awards to disabled nonelderly people go to TANF/SSP recipients, and many families that receive TANF/SSP support include adults, children, or both who receive SSI. Given the Social Security Administration’s efforts to improve eligibility assessment for applicants, to ensure timely access to SSI benefits for those who qualify, and to improve prospects for eventual employment of the disabled, there is definitely a basis for working with TANF authorities both nationally and locally on service coordination and on smoothing the process of SSI eligibility assessment.

The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 reauthorized TANF through fiscal year 2010, but with some rules changes that are important in light of the analysis presented in this article. The new law substantially increases effective federal requirements for work participation by adult TANF recipients and mandates that adults in Separate State Programs be included in participation requirements beginning in fiscal year 2007. Thus SSPs will no longer provide a means for exempting from work requirements families that are in the process of applying for SSI, and the increased emphasis on work participation could result in more SSI applications from adult TANF recipients.

Suggested citation:
Wiseman, Michael, and Wamhoff, Steve. The TANF-SSI Connection.” Social  Security Bulletin. Vol. 66, No. 4, 2005/2006.

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.