The 1996 welfare law transformed the nation’s social policy, changing several welfare-related programs and replacing the entitlement to cash assistance with a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program, which made benefits contingent on work. While these laws have helped low-income families move from welfare to work, millions have not received the assistance needed to escape poverty. Nationally, one out of six children still lives in poverty and research shows an increase in deep poverty (the number of families below half the poverty level). In addition, many former TANF recipients have been forced into homelessness. Now, as our nation faces the task of reauthorizing many provisions of the 1996 law, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) urges Congress and the Administration to use this opportunity to address the unfinished business of welfare reform, to meet the challenge of serving those with significant barriers to employment, to address conditions preventing even those who have left welfare from escaping poverty, to shift the focus of welfare reform from caseload reduction to poverty reduction, and thereby to significantly advance the nation’s ability to promote financial security and end poverty.

Many of those leaving welfare, lacking education and marketable skills, have joined and expanded the ranks of the working poor. Trapped in low-wage jobs with no advancement and few benefits, they are not earning enough to lift themselves out of poverty. Many do not have health insurance, childcare, transportation or other benefits needed to achieve economic security. Many who remain on the welfare rolls are considered “hard to place” and face multiple barriers to employment and self-sufficiency, including illiteracy, mental illness, substance abuse, learning disabilities, and domestic violence. Meanwhile, the denial of benefits to thousands of legal immigrants has increased the level of poverty within that community. Finally, as the country contends with an economic recession, former welfare recipients who entered the low-wage labor market may now lose their jobs, while those still on the rolls will have trouble finding work in a weak economy. In light of these conditions, the JCPA urges the following changes during welfare reauthorization: 

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