Implementing Welfare Reform: A State Report Card

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In 1996 the Personal Responsibility and WorkOpportunity Reconciliation Act was signed intolaw, and the nation waited to see if welfarereform would truly “end welfare as we know it.“Block grant funding and administrative devolutiongave the states a chance to move beyondpilot programs and prove that they could transitionpeople off welfare more efficiently and effectivelythan the federal government. As a result,caseloads have dropped by more than half.

Congress is currently debating the reauthorizationof PRWORA, and there are a variety of perspectiveson the direction welfare reform shouldnow take. It is useful to look at the policy decisionsstates have made over the past seven years and comparethe results. This paper emphasizes the positivepolicy choices made by states regarding welfarereform implementation – choices that encouragepersonal responsibility and self‐​sufficiency.

Strong structural reforms in a state’s welfaresystem – including time limits, sanctions, and narrowdefinitions of work activity – lay the foundationfor successful reorganization. Idaho, Ohio,Wisconsin, and Wyoming combined those reformswith positive quantitative outcomes andreceived the highest grade of A. California andNew York, the states with the largest welfare caseloads,will struggle to maintain their C grades inthe coming years since they lack programs thatencourage self‐​sufficency. Vermont received thelowest of the failing grades, including the lowestgrade on implementation of structural reformsrequired for a successful state welfare program.

Strained state budgets, a fluctuating economy,and new “pet programs” packed into welfare reauthorizationwill all change the face of welfare overthe next several years. This study offers analysis ofstate welfare reform implementation in the presentand can serve as a baseline for tracking welfarereauthorization program changes in the future.

Table 1: Overall Grades

State Overall Score Letter Grade
Idaho 76 A
Ohio 74 A
Wyoming 72 A
Wisconsin 71 A
Florida 68 B
Connecticut 63 B
Virginia 62 B
Illinois 61 B
New Jersey 60 B
Indiana 60 B
Iowa 60 B
Maryland 58 C
California 58 C
South Carolina 57 C
Arizona 57 C
New York 57 C
Georgia 56 C
North Carolina 55 C
Colorado 55 C
Washington 55 C
Hawaii 55 C
South Dakota 54 C
Louisiana 54 C
Kansas 53 C
Mississippi 53 C
New Mexico 52 C
Delaware 52 C
Montana 51 C
West Virginia 50 C
Arkansas 50 C
Oregon 50 C
Alabama 49 D
Kentucky 49 D
Oklahoma 49 D
Tennessee 46 D
Massachusetts 44 D
Nevada 43 D
Michigan 43 D
Pennsylvania 43 D
Texas 40 D
Minnesota 40 D
Alaska 40 D
Nebraska 38 F
Rhode Island 38 F
Utah 37 F
New Hampshire 36 F
D.C. 36 F
Maine 36 F
North Dakota 36 F
Missouri 36 F
Vermont 21 F

Jenifer Zeigler

Jenifer Zeigler is a welfare policy analyst with the Cato Institute.