Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

Disability, Welfare Reform, and Supplemental Security Income

Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

Disability, Welfare Reform, and Supplemental Security Income

Article excerpt

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program serves as both a safety net and a way station for families with disabilities. According to most studies, at least a third of all households receiving these benefits include an adult or child with a disability. Surveys have found that persons with disabilities receiving these benefits were less likely to be working. Sanctioning rates of these families exceed those for families without disabilities, and continuing poverty is more common among cases that close. There is overlap between this welfare program and Supplemental Security Income; more than one out of every six of these families included a recipient of Supplemental Security Income in 2002.


The enactment of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act in 1996 replaced Aid for Families with Dependent Children with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and had important implications for persons with disabilities and for the Supplemental security Income (SSI) program. Various surveys since its enactment show that between 32 percent and 44 percent of TANF recipients of report having impairments or chronic health problems. The difference in estimates, most of which are based on national surveys, is in part due to differing definitions of disability used in the surveys and possibly also to timing. Because persons with disabilities often have substantial barriers to employment, TANF work requirements and time limits potentially could have a more pronounced effect on them.

Because the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act is intended to encourage through incentives and penalties most welfare recipients to work, two key outcomes reviewed are employment and sanctions for noncompliance with program requirements. Not surprisingly, surveys have consistently found that TANF recipients with disabilities were substantially less likely to be working than those without disabilities. Additionally, although most states have formal policies to exempt persons with disabilities from various requirements, studies of results in the states have consistently found that families with reported disabilities or health problems were sanctioned at a higher rate than were other families.

Welfare reform has increased the financial incentives for state governments to promote movement by recipients of assistance from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to the Supplemental Security Income program. Trends in TANF benefits show an increase in the gain for recipients from doing so. Nationally, between 1996 and 2002, the average gain for a family of three from transferring one child to the SSI program grew by 3.8 percent (in constant dollars). Overlap and interaction between the two programs is substantial: in 2002, 17.1 percent of all TANF cases included an adult or a child recipient of the SSI benefits. One-third of the children receiving SSI benefits in December 2002, whose awards had been granted in the previous 24 months, had come from TANF families. Thirty percent of recent adult women awardees also came from families with links to TANF or Aid to Families with Dependent Children.


The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) replaced welfare as the country then knew it-Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)-with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).1 The law continued and extended an upswell of state initiatives, with dramatic results. From 1996 to 2002, the total number of welfare recipients in the nation declined by 58 percent (DHHS 2003b, II-5).

In recent years, issues related to disability among TANF recipients have received increased attention. TANF, by requiring increased work effort by assistance recipients, focused attention on barriers to work, including physical and mental impairments. Estimates of the extent of disabilities among families receiving TANF assistance vary but are commonly high. …

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