In the nearly two decades since the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 was signed into law, the nation has seen a major reduction in the number of welfare recipients. The nationwide decline of 70 percent, combined with evidence that most welfare recipients found work and were put on the road to economic self-sufficiency, shows welfare reform is a major public policy success.
The 2015 Welfare Reform Report Card reveals a wide range of results among the 50 states. The most successful states saw drops of more than 90 percent in the number of TANF recipients, while the least successful states saw declines of less than 30 percent. There is similar variation in getting TANF recipients to work for their benefits and reducing poverty, unemployment, and teenage birth rates.
While academic research on the effectiveness of specific state welfare reform policies continues and is complex, there is general agreement on the policies that work. They are integrating welfare and social services, requiring work or work-related activities immediately upon qualifying for aid, cash diversion programs, lifetime limits on aid, and effective sanctions.