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20 Years Later: Putting a Lens on Welfare Reform

A new report takes stock of how families are faring two decades after welfare reform.  (hotblack/morguefile)
A new report takes stock of how families are faring two decades after welfare reform. (hotblack/morguefile)
August 22, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio – It's been two decades since President Bill Clinton signed a bill purported to end welfare as we know it, and a new report takes stock of the success of welfare reform.

The law replaced the cash assistance entitlement for poor families and children with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program.

The Center for Community Solutions spoke with Ohioans involved in the debate at the time to see if the new program helped people become more self-sufficient and reduce dependence on assistance.

John Corlett, the Center’s president and executive director, points out there were some common themes.

"There's a lot of disappointment that much of the energy and enthusiasm that was around 20 years ago has really disappeared,” he relates. “They really felt like there's a lack of statewide advocacy around these issues – that we're just not paying enough attention to what's happening in the lives of these children and their families."

The findings also note that poverty is actually higher in Ohio now – up to nearly 16 percent in 2015 compared with about 10 percent in 1999.

Corlett says advocates in the report were also surprised the TANF caseload dropped as much as it has, down to just a few thousand adults in Ohio.

He says it raises concerns there are many families still not able to make ends meet that still could use assistance.

"That's concerning because we know that providing assistance to families particularly with children who are living in deep poverty can pay long-term benefits in terms of stabilizing those families, helping those children do better in school, improving their health,” he states.

Corlett contends changes are needed, particularly at the federal level, to allow greater investment in education and training for those receiving assistance.

"The jobs that are going to pay well that are going to allow someone to support their family and their children require greater education and training,” he states. “It makes sense that we would use these resources to invest in those good jobs and let people lift themselves out of poverty.”

Corlett adds that poverty has slipped from the nation's radar, and given the 20th anniversary of welfare reform it's time for a renewed focus on how to better help families in need.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH