Welfare Reform Act

An Introduction to the "Welfare Reform Act”
The passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 changed the system of providing public welfare in the United States. The inherent message of this federal legislation is that individuals must take personal responsibility for becoming self-sufficient. Benefits became time-limited and states were directed to develop program requirements that move people toward economic independence.

In 1997, Governor George Pataki signed into law the New York State Welfare Reform Act, implemented in April 1998. New York State adopted the Family Violence Option as part of this legislation. This portion of the law allows Department of Social Services staff to address safety needs of domestic violence victims and to offer grant waivers for certain work requirements when appropriate.

The federal law mandated the following:
  • By 2002, half of all states welfare recipients must be working in the private sector or participating in community services for job training.
  • Federal spending on welfare is issued to states in the form of  block grants with requirements that states institute job training, day care for children, transportation, and other transitional support services. The Act ended the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) entitlement. Funding goes to states as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).
  • An adult can collect cash benefits for no more than 5 years in their lifetime.
  • Non-US citizen immigrants are ineligible for welfare.
  • A person convicted of a drug-related crime is ineligible for cash benefits. 
With welfare reform, there was a major paradigm shift where local departments of social services staff are now more focused on the “temporary” nature of financial assistance. Work with needy families stresses helping them achieve self-sufficiency. Government monies for job training are allocated for job development and placement, child care, transportation, and other services to support a family’s move off of “traditional” welfare. Sanctions are issued for non-compliant applicant / recipients. Requirements for the evaluation and treatment of a person unable to work due to drug or alcohol addiction are in place.

With the changes in federal and state laws, the essential mission for county agencies focuses on “diverting” persons from welfare to jobs. Where barriers to this accomplishment for each “employable” person are identified, the agency provides access to services for individuals with mental health or health problems, chemical addictions, lack of transportation, housing or child care, and domestic violence.

Since 1997, the Washington County Department of Social Services has operated successfully within the “welfare reform” framework. In October 2002, the county was recognized by New York State’s Commissioner of the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) for being ranked 4th in the state transitioning persons from “welfare-to-work.” Welfare diversion provides a means for leading Washington County residents toward self-sufficiency and supports them in the process.