Policy Tip Sheet: Alabama Welfare Reform Policies

Published April 1, 2016

Alabama Welfare Reform


Alabama’s current set of welfare and anti-poverty programs disincentivize work, trapping welfare recipients in long-term poverty. In The Heartland Institute’s 2015 Welfare Reform Report Card, Alabama receives an F grade and ranks 45th for its anti-poverty Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) policies. Alabama has been one of the worst states at reducing TANF caseloads. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, between 1996 and 2014, the state had reduced its TANF rolls by 63.8 percent, a significantly lower rate than the national average of 72.7 percent.


The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, implemented in 1996, ended the national entitlement program Aid to Families with Dependent Children and created TANF, a block-grant program that grants to states the flexibility needed to reform their welfare systems. One current proposal by Alabama Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) would tighten lifetime limit eligibility requirements, implement stricter sanctions, and fight welfare fraud, moving Alabama’s ranking to 28th overall in Heartland’s report card.

Policy Message

Point 1: TANF recipients who are required to participate in work or work-related activities immediately upon receiving benefits improve their family’s well-being socially and economically.

Point 2: Strengthening the sanctions for failure to participate in work activities for TANF and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would likely lead to an increase inwork participation and encourage recipients to gain the skills they need to become self-sufficient and leave welfare rolls permanently.

Point 3: While federal TANF rules set a lifetime eligibility limit of five years, some states have adopted shorter lifetime limits, helping to create a stronger incentive for TANF recipients to prepare for work and accept available job opportunities.

Point 4: The “T” in TANF stands for “temporary.” Polling has shown 50 percent of the public believes welfare should only be available for 12 months.

Point 5: Many SNAP recipients are accepted under loose “categorical eligibility” standards, which occurs when recipient eligibility is determined not by the income and asset limitations established for SNAP, but by participation in other welfare programs. Asset tests are a tool 14 states use to ensure all food stamp dollars are used only by those families truly in need.

Point 6: Between five percent and 25 percent of states’ welfare spending has been found to be wasted or fraudulent. Commonsense welfare fraud prevention practices would save taxpayer dollars and preserve taxpayer-funded welfare programs for those truly in need of help.

Point 7: A 2013 Cato Institute study found in the current welfare system, a family collecting welfare benefits in Alabama could receive benefits worth more than $23,310 in just one year, while a single person with two children working a full-time job at the minimum wage and utilizing the Earned Income Tax Credit would earn just $22,628 per year.

Point 8: Children, seniors, and people with disabilities are covered by other welfare programs. Waivers are available to those facing significant hardships.

Point 9: These reforms would free up block-grant money and could be reinvested in transportation, workforce development, childcare, and alcohol and substance abuse programs for the truly needy.

Point 10: A study by the Foundation for Government Accountability found after three months of reinstated work requirements in Kansas, nearly 13,000 Kansans left the welfare rolls. Within a year, nearly 60 percent of these former enrollees found employment and increased their incomes by an average of 127 percent.


1. Welfare Reform Report Card: A State by State Analysis of Anti-Poverty Performance and Welfare Reform Policies, The Heartland Institute:http://heartland.org/welfare-reform

2. The Power of Work – How Kansas’ Welfare Reform is Lifting Americans Out of Poverty, The Foundation for Government Accountability:http://thefga.org/research/report-the-power-of-work-how-kansas-welfare-reform-is-lifting-americans-out-of-poverty/