Academic journal article Social Work Research

Welfare Returns and Temporary Time Limits: A Proportional Hazard Model

Academic journal article Social Work Research

Welfare Returns and Temporary Time Limits: A Proportional Hazard Model

Article excerpt

This study analyzes welfare returns for families who leave welfare for a "sit-out" period of 12 months in response to a temporary time limit requirement in Nevada. Findings reveal that relatively few families return for cash assistance after sitting out and that the majority who do return soon after their sit-out period is complete. Results also reveal that families with young children, large families, and those with multiple spells before reaching their time limits are at greater risk of re-entry. The study demonstrates the critical role of the economy in shaping welfare re-entry. A simulation exercise estimates that if faced with a high unemployment rate of 14%, nearly 92% of those who leave because of temporary time limits would eventually return to welfare.

KEY WORDS: economy and welfare returns; proportional hazard models; welfare temporary time-limits; welfare reform


One of the most conspicuous features of 'the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA, EL. 104-193) was the imposition of time limits. This legislation replaced the federal entitlement program Aid to Families with Dependent Children with a block grant for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Presently, the federal government prohibits states from using federal TANF funds for most families for more than 60 cumulative months (Pavetti & Bloom, 2001). Nine states impose a permanent time limit of less than 60 months, and five states impose a temporary period of ineligibility following the receipt of cash benefits ranging from 18 to 36 months (Rowe & Roberts, 2002).

Permanent or temporary welfare time limits represent a nonpermissive welfare system and extreme measures taken to curb welfare dependence. Nevada, where the present study took place, imposes a 60-month time limit and requires families to "sit out" for 12 months after receiving cash assistance for 24 months. This requirement creates a unique opportunity to examine how welfare returns play out after recipients sit out for 12 months. Using longitudinal monthly administrative data and a proportional hazard model, this study examined how the economy, welfare benefit levels, and recipients' personal characteristics or behaviors before reaching time limits shape patterns of return after sitting out in Nevada. The issue of welfare recidivism takes on greater significance in the wake of welfare reform than it did before PRWORA, in part because welfare recipients are using more of their lifetime benefits after returning to welfare. Yet, only a few studies have examined welfare recidivism after the inception of PRWORA, and to our knowledge the present study is the first one to explain patterns of return to welfare after leaving because of mandatory temporary time limits.

The results of this study are interesting not only for what they can tell us about welfare returns under a unique circumstance in a single state, but also because they may serve as a template for similar research in other states. The findings of this investigation have special value for states with temporary time-limited welfare or for states considering such a policy option. The findings have nationwide value and relevance because of general national concerns about longterm self-sufficiency and welfare re-entry. Our study determines the extent to which patterns of re-entry and the effect of explanatory factors on welfare returns resemble similar research conducted in states with no temporary time limits. State flexibility in designing welfare policies or programs in the wake of welfare reform means that researchers need to investigate state-specific programs and that Congress needs to consider state-specific research findings when debating future national welfare reforms.


Return Rates and Patterns

Before welfare reform, returns to welfare ranged from 17% to 37% within one year after exit and between 35% and 45% within two years after exit (Bane & Ellwood, 1994; Harris, 1996; Hofferth, Stanhope,& Harris, 2005; Meyer & Cancian, 1996). …

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