Plunging welfare rolls were big news in the wake of Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform, which limited benefits and required recipients to engage in “work related” activities. Those declines coincided with record numbers of poor single mothers heading into the workplace and a significant drop in child poverty–proof, supporters said, that the new policy was a success. But the reform took effect at a time when unemployment was at a historic low–there were actually jobs for welfare moms to go to. In recent years, by contrast, tanf caseloads have been falling even as unemployment has soared and other poverty programs have experienced explosive growth. (Nearly 11 million more people received food stamps last year than did in 2000.) With the economy settling into a prolonged slump, this trend could be devastating.
Women turned away from tanf lose more than a check. tanf is a gateway to education, drug rehab or mental health care, child care, even transportation and disability benefits–tools for upward mobility.