Federal Welfare Reform: A Critical Perspective
This project will examine “welfare reform,” which was signified by the signing of the Personal
Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWOA) in 1996. PRWOA replaced the original welfare
act of 1935, titled Aid to Dependent Children (later changed to Aid to Families with Dependent
Children), with the program Temporary Assistance to needy Families (TANF). Under PRWOA, TANF
was instated as a system of block grants allocated to states to implement their own forms of
assistance and replaced programs like the cash-assistance program, Aid to Families with Dependent
Children, and the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training. The most influential change of this
legislation among others has been the implementation of required work hours and strict time limits
to how long families may receive aid, implying that people can simply will their way out of poverty
provided they work hard enough. While the significant fall of TANF cash assistance caseloads
within the program’s first five years has been celebrated as proof of reform’s success, the new era
of welfare can only be considered a success if America views the transformation of the welfare
poor to the working poor an achievement.
Review of the Literature:
In conducting my research, it was interesting to find dramatically divergent perspectives on the
topic of welfare reform, especially considering that each perspective gave the impression that their
argument was based on quantitative facts. The sources I consulted that were affiliated with the
federal government, such as statistics and fact sheets from the Administration for Children and
Families (ACF) as well as the Whitehouse website, were the most optimistic about welfare reform.
The objective information provided by these sources is valuable in that it outlines many
specifications of welfare reform such as the details of work requirements, time limits, funding, and
penalties. Yet, by focusing exclusively on the decline in TANF caseloads, welfare reform is
portrayed as a wild success that has allowed families to “move from dependence on welfare to
greater independence through work” (U.S. Department of Health). These sources talk extensively
about “empowerment,” “protection,” and “independence” as related directly to work, welfare reform,
and its reauthorization. They emphasize a “national” interest in spending cuts which they assume to
be exclusive from the interests of the nation’s poor.
The other sources I consulted that were unaffiliated with the government either contradicted
or conflicted with the analysis of welfare reform’s success in one way or another. Instead of
focusing on the decline in TANF caseloads, these sources looked critically and holistically at welfare
reform as a policy and its effect on individuals and families. Instead of ending the analysis with the
removal of recipients from the welfare roles, Fremstad, Melendez, and Goldberg...