Welfare Reform after Ten Years: Did Your State ‘End Welfare as We Know it?’

Published June 30, 2008

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When President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, he gave the states unprecedented flexibility in implementing welfare reform.

Elected officials and human services professionals in Maryland, Idaho, Illinois, Florida, Virginia, and California most successfully seized the opportunities provided by the new law, developing thoughtful policies and integrating services needed to help recipients move into the workplace.

Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Kansas, Vermont, and Missouri were less ambitious, benefitting from the policy changes at the national level but not making the most of opportunities available to improve effectiveness at the state level.

Welfare Reform After Ten Years: A State-by-State Analysis, released today by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Heartland Institute, ranks the 50 states and the District of Columbia, grading them by the success of their anti-poverty efforts and by the reform policies they adopted.

The research project was directed by Gary MacDougal, author of Make a Difference: A Spectacular Breakthrough in the Fight Against Poverty. The former chairman of the Illinois governor’s Task Force for Human Services Reform, MacDougal has consulted with governors and public administrators in several states on how to reform welfare programs and improve human services.

“This Report Card provides policymakers with a roadmap to successful anti-poverty efforts,” MacDougal said.

“While the federal government gave great flexibility to the states, it is up to state officials to take advantage of that,” he continued. “There is no good reason why states performing poorly can’t learn from the policies and practices of more successful states to help people move from dependence to self-sufficiency. Work is a life-changing and life-affirming experience, and too few states are doing all they can to help their less-fortunate citizens find meaningful work.”

With 100 being the highest possible score on the Report Card, the top six states achieved scores between 72.7 (California) and 83.0 (Maryland). The scores of the five lowest-ranking states ranged from 31.0 (Rhode Island) to 25.2 (Missouri).

The states’ overall ranking is an average of two separate analyses. The first measured five variables that reflect states’ success in fighting poverty: percentage decline in the number of Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) recipients, change in poverty rate, TANF work participation rate, change in unemployment rate, and change in teenage birth rate.

The second analysis reviewed seven welfare reform policies states can adopt: service integration, increased utilization of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), work requirements, cash diversion programs, family cap provisions, lifetime limits on aid, and sanctions.

“The Heartland Institute and I stand ready to help state and local elected officials who are interested in learning more about the best practices and policies of the states that have performed the best on this report card,” MacDougal said.

Editors: Gary MacDougal is available for interviews. To make arrangements, contact Dan Miller, Heartland’s publisher and executive vice president, at 312/377-4000 or by email at [email protected].

The Heartland Institute is a 24-year-old national nonprofit organization based in Chicago, Illinois. It is tax-exempt under Section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code. Nothing in this news release or the report it describes is intended to influence the passage of pending legislation. For more information, call 312/377-4000 or visit our Web site at www.heartland.org.