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A Liberal in Wolf's Clothing: Nixon's Family Assistance Plan in the Light of 1990s Welfare Reform

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 August 1998

ALEX WADDAN
Affiliation:
School of Social and International Studies, University of Sunderland, Priestman Building, Green Terrace, Sunderland SR1 3PZ

Abstract

When President Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) in August 1996, it brought to an end the much vilified sixty-one-year-old Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) programme. Although few mourned the passing of AFDCper se many liberals were alarmed by the nature of the changes. AFDC had effectively been a cash maintenance programme for poor single-parent families with the costs shared between federal and state governments. The PRWORA repealed AFDC and some smaller related programmes, with Washington giving its former share of funding to the states in the form of a new block grant, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). The existing entitlement nature of AFDC was ended with the states given new discretion in determining TANF eligibility. Overall considerable responsibility for the implementation of welfare policy was devolved to the states. The bill, however, did set a maximum time limit for individual receipt of federal TANF funds. After two years, welfare recipients must engage in a recognized work effort to continue to receive help, with a total five-year limit on TANF money. Opposition to these measures was overwhelmed by the demand for significant reform of the welfare system. Previously this demand had been thwarted through a combination of Washington gridlock and the limited scale of those changes which were enacted. In 1996, however, the dam holding back reform was breached at the high tide of anti-welfare sentiment. The despair this provoked among liberals should perhaps have caused them to reflect on their part in blocking previous attempts at an overhaul of AFDC. In particular, the elder statespersons of liberalism might regret their role in helping defeat President Nixon's Family Assistance Plan (FAP).

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© 1998 Cambridge University Press

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