Many of the most important provisions of the landmark federal welfare reform legislation of 1996 are set to expire in September 2002. In particular, the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant that provides funding to the states for both cash benefits and services to help move low-income, primarily single-parent, families toward self-sufficiency must be reauthorized by the 107th Congress. Thus, the stage is set for an important national debate that is likely to be heated, difficult, and protracted. Participants include the new Bush administration, a narrowly-divided Senate and House, the policy research community, and a variety of advocacy groups.
A large number of research studies has been commissioned to examine the effects of the 1996 welfare reform legislation on state policy choices and low-income families. Some of these effects, notably impacts on children, may not be fully evident for some time. A more immediate concern, however, is whether policymakers will be able to assimilate a surge of emerging research and use it effectively during reauthorization.
To address this problem, the Brookings Institution is launching Welfare Reform & Beyond, a two-year initiative to synthesize emerging research, make it available to policymakers, the press, and the public in “user-friendly” formats, and promote informed debate on the successes and shortcomings of the welfare reform legislation during its first five years. The project will also identify possible improvements to the current system of income-tested benefits for the poor. Particular attention will be devoted to alternative strategies for helping low-income families who are working but remain below the poverty line.
Publications of the Welfare Reform & Beyond initiative will include a series of policy briefs on issues such as the adequacy of child care funding, how to help the hard-to-employ, and the effects of welfare reform on children. Other components of the project will include briefings for congressional staff and the press, seminars for policymakers, researchers and advocates, and policy retreats for federal and state policymakers.
The Welfare Reform & Beyond Initiative will also have a website (brookings-edu-2023.go-vip.net/wrb) that not only provides direct access to many of the Initiative’s own publications but also provides links to many other organizations doing research on the impact of welfare reform.
The project’s co-directors bring a unique blend of backgrounds and perspectives to the project. Ron Haskins, a developmental psychologist, became staff director of the House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee in 1995, when the Republicans took control of Congress. In that position, he oversaw development of the 1996 welfare reform legislation and other important pieces of social policy legislation. Isabel Sawhill, an economist, was associate director of the Office of Management and Budget during the first two years of the Clinton administration, where she was heavily involved in the development of the administration’s welfare reform proposal. Kent Weaver, a political scientist, is the author of Ending Welfare As We Know It (Brookings Institution Press, 2000), which the Wall Street Journal called “the authoritative history of one of the 20th century’s most stunning revolutions in social policy.”
The initiative’s outreach coordinator, Andrea Kane, most recently served on President Clinton’s Domestic Policy Council, where she led a four-person team responsible for the administration’s policies on welfare reform and working families.
The Welfare Reform & Beyond initiative is being funded by grants from a consortium of foundations including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Foundation for Child Development, the Joyce Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.