Welfare Reauthorization: Congressional Proposals Head Back to the Past

Margy Waller
Margy Waller Visiting Fellow, Economic Studies and Metropolitan Policy, The Brookings Institution

July 21, 2003

I’m honored to join you all today. Let me start by saying that there is much for you all to be pleased about regarding what you have accomplished since implementing the 1996 TANF law, and even before that under welfare waivers in the early 1990s.

But, my assignment today is to discuss the results of our research and that of others, which suggest that the success of TANF administrators and the families you assist would be seriously undermined if Congress passes something like the administration’s proposal for reauthorization, or proposals under consideration in Congress today.

In the past year and a half my work has taken me to a number of states to discuss TANF implementation and reauthorization. In addition, at the Brookings urban center, we have conducted surveys of state and local officials regarding welfare and working family issues and policy.

Most everything I learned on my trips supports the research findings.

Last year, we conducted a survey of the states where the 50 largest cities are located. We asked about cash assistance caseloads in the counties where those cites are located, and in particular about cases facing the time limit on receipt of federally funded assistance.

We learned that while only 33 percent of state residents live in the urban counties we surveyed, those counties were home to over half of their state’s welfare cases facing a federal time limit, and an astounding 71 percent of their state’s long-term cases facing the time limit. Many long-term recipients face significant barriers to work and need services to overcome these barriers. Others are working, but not earning enough to leave welfare. Those families need ongoing assistance to continue working, and to move up the job ladder.