Academic journal article Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare

Making TANF Work: Organizational Restructuring, Staff Buy-In, and Performance Monitoring in Local Implementation

Academic journal article Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare

Making TANF Work: Organizational Restructuring, Staff Buy-In, and Performance Monitoring in Local Implementation

Article excerpt

While research suggests that staff resistance to change and intentional subversion have hampered prior welfare reform efforts, this does not appear to be the case for the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). This paper draws on data from a study of East County, New York to explicate the mechanisms that have enabled the unprecedented transformation in local implementation practice in this case. Interviews, participant observation, and textual analysis of legislative and program documents identify new program creation, staff buy-in, and the environment created by stern performance measures as instrumental in bringing about the PRWORA's successful implementation of policy changes. Revealing workplace dynamics that mutually reinforce and compel attention to institutional interests, these findings suggest that further research is needed to examine how these implementation dynamics impact staff responsiveness to clients and clients" experiences.

Key words: Welfare Reform, TANF, Implementation, Institutional Ethnography (IE), Performance Measures, Participation Rates, Implementation Success, PRWORA, Welfare-to-Work, Ideological Buy-In, New York State, Family Support Act

Introduction

In 1992, Presidential Candidate William Jefferson Clinton pledged to "end welfare as we know it." With the passage of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA P.L. 104-193) he accomplished this goal. This legislation replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), ended welfare's entitlement status, required work (or participation in work-related activities) in exchange for benefits, and placed a five-year lifetime limit on federal aid to individuals. It also mandated a devolution, or delegation, of responsibility for designing and implementing the reformed welfare system to states.

The 1996 Welfare Reform and New York State

In passing the 1997 Welfare Reform Act (Chapter 436B of the laws of 1997, McCall 1999), New York closely adhered to the model set by the PRWORA's guidelines (McKenna 1998). The state delegated implementation responsibility to counties and installed mechanisms to police the performance measures to which the PRWORA had made each state accountable. The work participation rate is the most prominent of these performance measures. This is the ratio of TANF recipients participating in approved work activities to the total number of TANF recipients (US DHHS 2002). States are required to meet a higher benchmark in each year leading up to the PRWORA's scheduled reauthorization in 2002. States that fail to meet these rates face heavy financial penalties from the federal government (Pataki 2000).

The transition to a block grant funding structure has emphasized a second performance indicator caseload--declines. Prior to the reform, states, counties and the federal government shared the costs of welfare according to a fixed formula in which the federal government paid fifty percent of all costs. Since the reform, block grants to states are in fixed amounts based roughly on the size of the caseload in 1994, regardless of current caseload size. Thus, it is in a state's best interest to facilitate a decline in local caseloads and retain the excess grant money for other programming (McCall 1999). (1)

The federal five-year time limit provides a third performance-related focus to implementers in New York. Unlike other states, New York's constitutionally-determined obligation to assist the poor places heightened pressure on county welfare administrators to move individuals off welfare before they reach sixty months and are transferred to the state- and locally-funded Safety Net program (Silver and Farrell 1998, McCall 1999).

While presenting significant obstacles to state and local administrators, New York State has met these challenges with success as defined by participation rates and caseload decline. …

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