How will we know if welfare reform is successful?
In 1996, Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. This legislation ended the program known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and replaced it with a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Under TANF, welfare assistance is no longer an entitlement program. Welfare benefits are time-limited and are closely tied to work requirements which are intended to move welfare recipients off welfare and into the labor force.
The Act came up for reauthorization in 2002, and was extended by Congress through a series of short-term extensions until re-enacted in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which was enacted in February 2006. There is an extensive literature dealing with reauthorization and the issues it evokes; for a start, see a special issue of Focus: Volume 22:1 (Summer 2002). Also see the joint publication of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Center for Law and Social Policy, Implementing the TANF Changes in the Deficit Reduction Act: "Win-Win" Solutions for Families and States (February 2007). A number of other Web sites are useful: the National Conference of State Legislatures' has a series of policy briefs on welfare, as does the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The Center for Law and Social Policy also has extensive analyzes of the provisions of proposed welfare legislation.
Ultimately, the success or failure of welfare reform will be assessed on empirical grounds, including changes in the size of welfare caseloads and the well-being of the families and children who have left the welfare system.
Some information on well-being may be available from data on wages, employment and income, housing and homelessness, and levels of child maltreatment and foster care placement. Three IRP Special Reports, Nos. 71, 72, and 73, discuss what kinds of indicators are likely to be most useful in assessing the effects of reform.
IRP has developed a brief guide to Web sites that monitor basic trends in poverty, welfare caseloads, and related issues and that can be used to assess the effects of welfare reform nationwide. The Urban Institute, through its Assessing the New Federalism project, also made available much information about the effects of the new welfare regimes on families. IRP researchers have studied welfare reform in Wisconsin. Other state programs are being evaluated both by the state agencies themselves, by private nongovernmental organizations, and by academic researchers. The Economic Success Clearinghouse (formerly the Welfare Information Network) is a useful guide to information on states and on particular initiatives.
Welfare reform in Wisconsin transformed AFDC into a TANF program known as Wisconsin Works (W–2), which has been the subject of intensive research by IRP affiliates over the years. One multidisciplinary study examined the well-being of women leaving welfare in Wisconsin; another examined families on welfare in Dane County. Final results of a three-wave survey of Milwaukee families and W-2 have been published by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. Currently available reports for all these studies may be found on the IRP Web site under Welfare Reform: Wisconsin Studies.
In 1997 IRP launched the Child Support Demonstration Evaluation (CSDE), a multiyear experimental evaluation of the innovative child support component of Wisconsin Works. Under CSDE, families entitled to child support generally retained the entire amount paid on their behalf. Wisconsin's experiment with “passing through” and “disregarding” all child support to resident-parent families was cited by President George W. Bush as an influence on related sections of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. Reports of the Child Support Demonstration Evaluation contain extensive discussion of experiences of families participating in the W-2 program.
The Midwest Welfare Peer Assistance Network (WELPAN) is a network of senior welfare officials from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin which met regularly between 1996 and 2006 to discuss how to make welfare reform work. IRP coordinated WELPAN’s meetings, which were funded by the Joyce Foundation. The group continues to exchange ideas on a private electronic mailing list hosted by IRP.
The following publications describe IRP research on Wisconsin welfare reform:
Cancian, Maria, and Marci Ybarra. 2008. “The Earnings and Income of Wisconsin Works (W-2) Applicants.” September. PowerPoint Presentation available in PDF format.
Corbett, Thomas. 1996. “Understanding Wisconsin Works (W-2).” Focus 18(1): 53-54.
Corbett, Thomas. 1997. “The Next Generation of Welfare Reforms: The Evaluation Challenge.” Focus 18(3): 5-10
Haveman, Robert. 1997. “A Pre-Post Design for State-Based Evaluation of National Welfare Reform.” Focus 18(3): 11-16.
Hotz, V. Joseph, and John Karl Scholz. 2005. Can Administrative Data on Child Support Be Used to Improve the EITC? Evidence from Wisconsin. IRP Discussion Paper No. 1310-05.
Jacobson, Bob. 2007. “Are Wisconsin’s low-income families better off or worse off since the state launched its welfare reform initiative called Wisconsin Works (W-2) ten years ago?” WisKids Journal. September/October. (An interview of IRP Researcher Jennifer Noyes and Pam Fendt, director of the Good Jobs and Livable Neighborhoods Coalition in Milwaukee.)
Kaplan, Thomas, and Daniel R. Meyer. 1997. “Toward a Basic Impact Evaluation of Wisconsin Works.” Focus 18(3): 33-41.
Kaplan, Thomas, and Ingrid Rothe. 1999. “New Hope and W-2: Common Challenges, Different Responses.” Focus 20(2): 44-48, 50.
Wu, Chi-Fang, Maria Cancian, Daniel R. Meyer, and Geoffrey Wallace. 2004. How Do Welfare Sanctions Work? IRP Discussion Paper No. 1282-04.
Visit the IRP Research section on Welfare Reform: Wisconsin Studies for an extensive list of IRP publications on Wisconsin studies, or use the IRP publications database search feature to generate a bibliography of recent related publications (including books and journal articles) by IRP research affiliates.