Welfare, Working Families, and Reauthorization: Mayors’ Views

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

May 1, 2003


Thirty-one mayors responding to a 2003 survey on the impact of the 1996 welfare law on their cities
and residents, current state and local budget difficulties, and President Bush’s proposal for reauthorization
of the 1996 law report that:

Welfare rolls in almost half of the cities
increased last year, and two-thirds of
cities saw an increase in the proportion of
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
(TANF) recipients facing substantial barriers
since 1997.
Frequently reported barriers
to work include lack of skills training and
health problems, although layoffs due to the
economy rank as the top reason former welfare
recipients returned to the rolls.

Work support services like child care are very important in helping TANF recipients find and keep jobs, but current programs are inadequate to meet the
needs of either working poor families or TANF recipients.
State eligibility and funding
level changes for child care assistance last year hurt working families, and two-thirds of mayors report that their states are considering changes for next year that would negatively affect both groups of families.

Over 20 percent of welfare recipients face substantial barriers to employment, and in
roughly one-third of the cities, more than one in five recipients could hit a timelimit this year.
The most prevalent barrier to work is lack of skills, followed by health problems and lack of transportation. The
training services most needed by TANF recipients focus on work habits and soft skills, occupational skills, basic skills, and GED attainment. In addition, the vast majority of mayors state that the lack of affordable
housing in their city has a negative effect on
the ability of TANF recipients and other lowincome families to find and keep jobs.

Federal and state funding cuts led to reductions in work support services despite significant unmet need. Most mayors
of cities that received Welfare-to-Work grant funds indicate that their city has or will discontinue services because of expiring funding. At the same time, they
anticipate their state will reduce benefits and services to both TANF recipients and poor working families in the coming year.
The loss of services for hard-to-place recipients occurs just as caseload decline stops or reverses in most cities, recidivism is significant, and cases with substantial barriers to work are increasing.

The change in eligibility for legal immigrants has had a negative impact on needy non-citizens and the institutions
that serve them.
Community-based organizations are the most likely entities to serve needy non-citizens, more likely than houses
of worship or family members.

The administration’s proposed changes to work requirements would be costly; funds are not available to cover program and child care changes that would be required; and mayors have an overwhelmingly
negative reaction to the proposal.
Almost all mayors said funding is inadequate
to meet the increased costs of the proposed work program, so existing supports for working poor families would have to be eliminated. The primary condition preventing
compliance with the proposed changes is a lack of jobs in cities, followed by a lack of
affordable child care or transportation.