August 22 marks the 20th anniversary of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), a truly bipartisan reform passed by congressional Republicans and signed by President Bill Clinton. The landmark welfare reform law substantially changed the U.S. welfare system for the first time in more than six decades. PRWORA instituted work requirements, imposed time limits, and allowed states to craft their own welfare programs through the newly formed Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Since 1996, principles for best practices have emerged, helping to form a framework that has provided the basis for further bipartisan reform, much of it at the state level. Many states have focused on the important challenge of moving welfare recipients from government dependency to self-sufficiency.
In March 2015, The Heartland Institute released the 2015 Welfare Reform Report Card, an in-depth study that assigned grades to the 50 states and the District of Columbia based on how they implemented the TANF program.
The following statements from welfare policy experts at The Heartland Institute – a free-market think tank – may be used for attribution. For more comments, refer to the contact information below. To book a Heartland guest on your program, please contact Director of Communications Jim Lakely at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.
“The results speak for themselves. Since national welfare reform passed in the mid-1990s, roughly 9 million people have moved off of the TANF program. States have been able to accomplish this by working hard to integrate programs and establish state policies that improve the effectiveness of the many programs designed to help people leave poverty. “A number of states have reformed their welfare systems in the past few years to require welfare recipients to participate in a work-related program. Many have also implemented strict sanctions for non-compliant recipients and reduced lifetime limits as well. Unfortunately, other states have been less active and less effective. The current set of welfare and anti-poverty programs and regulations in other states are trapping welfare recipients in long-term poverty. Many state governments still can (and should) improve the effectiveness of their efforts to help those in poverty.”
“The 1996 welfare reform law may be the most important and positive social legislation of our lifetimes so far. As I say in my book: ‘welfare reform has dramatically changed the direction of most state systems, establishing a powerful overarching focus on welfare recipients becoming self-sufficient, and on the now temporary nature of most welfare assistance – a hand up, not a handout.’ I also wrote, ‘The focus was on values, specifically the work ethic (you shouldn’t get something for nothing) and good government – if you (taxpayers) spend billions, you should be able to show results. The emphasis on state flexibility and responsibility, combined with the emphasis on work, really added momentum to the idea that the state systems must change in order to be successful in the new environment.’
“The bi-partisan Brookings book by Ron Haskins and Rebecca Blank demonstrates conclusively that the law has been a major success and President Clinton regularly took credit for its success. Of course there are opportunities for improvement, and the sound idea of devolving other social programs to the states together with accountability for results should be pursued vigorously.”
The Heartland Institute
Author, Make A Difference: A Spectacular Breakthrough in the Fight Against Poverty
“The passage of PRWORA in 1996 was a seminal moment in the movement to reform our nation’s ailing welfare system. The bill places the focus of the country’s welfare program back where it belongs, on providing temporary or supplemental assistance while encouraging work and independence. These reforms should be applied elsewhere; states across the nation should implement an immediate requirement for recipients to engage in work-related activities to be eligible for TANF and food stamps. Welfare programs must avoid regulations and requirements that trap low-income Americans in poverty by disincentivizing work. Welfare for able-bodied recipients should focus on making recipients more self-sufficient and less dependent on government.”
“The enormously successful 1996 welfare reform covered just one federal welfare program. The same reforms should be extended to over 100 more federal means-tested welfare programs, sending all of the $1 trillion taxpayers pay on welfare each year back to the states to be completely reformed.”
“Few reforms of federal law have had the impact and enjoyed the success of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. By empowering states to choose reforms that work best for them, PRWORA radically transformed the U.S. welfare system and led directly to plummeting welfare rolls in states across the nation.
“Today, state governments have the power and responsibility to enact common-sense reforms to their welfare and food stamp programs that will help people move out of poverty and into self-sufficiency.”
“The landmark reform of 1996 restored dignity to the country’s welfare program. Instead of giving able-bodied individuals handouts, Democrat President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress gave people incentives to work for welfare, earn their way out of public assistance, and escape government dependency.
“Block-granting Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to the states freed 50 laboratories of democracy to discover safety nets that empower rather than enslave the neediest Americans. The experiment has worked. Congress and the next president should replicate TANF’s success by block-granting Medicaid to the states.”
“Twenty years ago, President Bill Clinton worked with congressional Republicans to write and replace the old and busted Aid to Families with Dependent Children program with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, allowing states to take charge of their own destinies and conform welfare to their particular circumstances. As states tailored their programs to suit their individual needs, the overall costs of entitlement programs fell, the quality of service increased, and voters were empowered with more ability to hold accountable the people writing and enacting policies.
“On this milestone anniversary, lawmakers across the nation should work to replace the safeguards torn down by President Barack Obama and liberal lawmakers in statehouses and in Congress, restoring the spirit of self-actualization and responsibility PRWORA’s writers intended.”
The Heartland Institute is a 32-year-old national nonprofit organization headquartered in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Its mission is to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems. For more information, visit our website or call 312/377-4000.