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Welfare Reform: Six Years Later

April 28, 2003
By: Christopher Shields
State Capital Bureau

Six years ago, the nation's welfare system fundamentally changed.

One of the biggest changes was a 60 month maximum lifetime time-limit for benefits.

Now, some families are facing the reality of life without welfare.

I'm Christopher Shields for Missouri Capitol Caucus.

RunTime: 3:21
OutCue: SOC

Carletta Connor of Mexico, Missouri is one of many people facing the 60-month time-limit imposed by Temporary Aid to Needy Families, or TANF.

RunTime: 17
OutCue: going to do
Contents: Five years ago when I came to Mexico from Duhram, North Carolina I was put on TANF and they told me I had a five-year time limit. And, right now my time limit is up in three months. So, after the three months I'm pretty well, you know, in the dark about what I'm going to do.

Connor is single, unemployed and a mother of four.

She gets 388 dollars a month from TANF, Food Stamps, Medicaid and occasional child support payments.

She says she can't work because of her 4-year old that needs special care.

Even with the TANF benefits, Connor says its impossible to stretch her budget every month.

RunTime: 17
OutCue: we're here.
Contents: Hard, its real hard. I mean, I have utility bills that are really out of this world. So, we have to do what we can because without paying the utility bill we have no home. So, I worry about the utility bill more than anything. We don't do okay, but we're here.

Connor isn't the only one about to lose her welfare benefits.

Connie Ward from the Missouri Social Services Department.

RunTime: 17
OutCue: 2,697 cases
Contents: In Missouri, our time limit, the first family that could actually reach that 60 months was the end of June, so July 1st would've been the first months that they would've been past 60 months. And since July the first. We've closed about 2,697 cases.

Ward says that before benefits are cut off, social services discusses a strategy for the remaining time.

RunTime: 14
OutCue: happen to close
Contents: We ask them to come in and to discuss with us what's going on with their family. What's their situation, what supports we can give them until the end of that six months. We help them with whatever they are going to do when the case would happen to close.

While there is a plan in place before someone hits their time limit, Connor says it doesn't help at all.

RunTime: 07
OutCue: years it is.
Contents: I don't understand what the plan is because when your time's up really your time's up. So what can you do? Man said five years, five years it is.

Even though Conner will lose her benefits soon, Ward says she will not be completely cut off of all benefits.

RunTime: 13
OutCue: consider self-sufficient
Contents: Even after our cash assistance case might close. They still quite often are recieving food stamps and medicaid to help them support until they can just keep moving, progress to the point of what some people consider self-sufficient.

Despite her complaints, and with her time-limit approaching Conner is making progress moving off welfare.

She says she will get her GED soon.

Her youngest son will start school next fall freeing up time to work, although it may take her away from Mexico.

She says losing TANF benefits may be a setback in becoming self-sufficient.

RunTime: 09
OutCue: I can do it.
Contents: Just give me a break, just give me a chance. Take my time limit up. And just let me show you that I can do it. Just let me get the time that I need, which will probably be six more months and I can do it.

In part two, we'll explore how Missouri's welfare system functions and how it's different from the now defunct federal system.


Until 1997, the federal government set detailed rules for providing cash assistance to needy families.

That all changed with welfare reform, which gave states more power to administer their own welfare systems.

I'm Christopher Shields for Missouri Capitol Caucus.

RunTime: 3:07
OutCue: SOC

15 years ago, Robin Acree was a low-income single mother fleeing an abusive relationship.

Acree went on Aid to Families with Dependent Children or AFDC, the now defunct federal welfare program, for 6 years.

Under AFDC, families with dependent children recieved cash entitlements from the federal government.

There was no time limit, but cash assistance ended once a parent became employed.

Today, Acree has a college degree and runs Grass Roots Organizing, a poverty advocacy group in Mexico, Missouri.

She says AFDC helped her get where she is today.

RunTime: 08
OutCue: better for it
Contents: I'm really thankful that there was an entitlement and a saftey net for me and my kids. They're definatley, all of us are better for it.

If Acree wanted benefits today, she would be faced with a different welfare system run by the state.

When the new program-heralded by Congress and President Clinton as welfare reform went into effect; it stipulated that programs have 60-month timelines and require recipients to work.

Connie Ward from Missouri's Social Services department describes who is eligible for state Temporary Aid for Needy Families, or TANF.

RunTime: 21
OutCue: the cash assistance
Contents: An eligability criteria as far as being at a certain income level. There's a resource maximum of a thousand dollars or five thousand dollars until you're proving in a self sufficiency pact. We exempt the first vehicle. So there are some eligability requirements to pass before you can actually recieve the cash assistance.

Once benefits start, the recipient is required to engage in some kind of work activity or education to maintain cash benefits.

Ward says a variety of things can count as work activity.

RunTime: 17
OutCue: satisfactory
Contents: Job search, job rediness activities, being employed, perhaps going to school. Educational activities are considered work activities. So, if you can participate in those for 30 hours a week that would be considered a work activity and would be satisfactory.

Once a person is employed, the state will not count that income for a year, allowing the recipient to stay eligible.

Acree says this is an advantage over the old system.

RunTime: 11
Contents: It seemed to be still quite black and white. In other words, if you got a job you got completely cut off. There was no transitional type thing which tended to keep you in poverty.

The new system also has a time-limit.

Unless someone is over 65 or disabled, a person can only be on TANF for a lifetime total of 60-months.

After 60 months a family is only eligible for federal programs like food stamps and Medicaid.

In the third and final part of this series, we'll examine if the new program has been successful after 6 years and what the future holds for TANF.


In 1997, welfare reform took effect, giving states more power in administering welfare benefits.

Six years later, caseloads are lower but some argue that Temporary Aid to Needy Families isn't moving people out of poverty.

I'm Christopher Shields for Missouri Capitol Caucus.

RunTime: 3:00
OutCue: SOC

TANF was created with the intention of moving people from welfare to work.

According to Connie Ward of the state Social Services Department, people in Missouri are moving off welfare.

RunTime: 08
OutCue: we've ever been.
Contents: As far as evidence that cases have closed since 1997... We're probably at our lowest case load right now than we've ever been.

When TANF took effect in 1997 there were 184-thousand cases in Missouri.

Today that caseload has dropped by 64-thousand.

But Diana Moore from the Missouri Association of Social Welfare says just getting people off welfare and into jobs shouldn't be the only focus.

RunTime: 13
OutCue: the case
Contents: People have been put into jobs. But the issue is, are the jobs that people are being put into paying them enough to lift them out of poverty? And that is not necessarily the case.

According to a 2000 study conducted by researchers at the US Department of Health and Human Services, 45 to 65 percent of people who left welfare nationwide were working.

Of people moving from welfare to work in Missouri, the average monthly income was a little over 1-thousand dollars a month.

That prospect doesn't look good for Carletta Connor of Mexico, Missouri a single mother of four who's time limit on TANF is about to run out.

The amount the state determines as enough to support a family in Mexico is almost twice the average income for former TANF recipients in Missouri.

RunTime: 13
OutCue: I can get
Contents: Around these parts jobs are far and in between, so it will basically have to be whatever I can get.

So has welfare reform been a success?

Moore says it depends on how success is defined.

RunTime: 17
OutCue: challenges there
Contents: If you measure success by getting numbers off the rolls, it could be considered successful. If you measure the success in moving people into a sustainable wage, there are still challenges there.

Ward says success can't be defined by people moving off welfare, and says she isn't sure whether people are moving out of poverty.

RunTime: 11
OutCue: helped individuals
Contents: Certainly our case load has gone down. I don't like to say its a success because cases have gone down. I hope through the process and through our support services that we've helped individuals.

Whether welfare reform has been a success or not changes are on the way.

Those arguing that welfare reform has failed say they want to extend time-limits and get people into better paying jobs.

The Bush administration is proposing extending the work requirement from 30 to 40 hours per week along with doubling funding for childcare and job training resources.

That measure is still in Congress.