The Personal Responsibility and
Reconciliation Act of 1996
The Personal Responsibility Act (PRWORA) was the most significant change in U.S. welfare policy since the passage of the Social Security Act. It toughened work requirements for welfare recipients. Specifically, it ended the entitlement aspect of welfare, placing time limits on how long an individual can obtain welfare benefits. It also ended the AFDC program, replacing it with a program of block grants to the states called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). It was a radical reform that reversed the approach to welfare that had been developed in the 1960s.
The PRWORA developed out of a double crisis. The Family Support Act of 1988 had been followed not by the amelioration of America's welfare problem, but by its deepening. In the three years after its enactment, the welfare caseload grew by almost one third. By 1994, a record 14.2 million Americans were on AFDC, costing states and the federal government more than $20 billion a year.1 By anyone's reckoning, the welfare system appeared to have broken down. To make matters worse, the escalating cost of welfare directly collided with America's other great domestic problem of that era, a massive budget deficit. The U.S. budget appeared to be out of control. Severe spending measures were being urged on Congress to somehow end this deficit.
In 1992, the Democrat presidential candidate, Bill Clinton, made a political issue of the welfare mess. George H.W. Bush was the president first since Eisenhower not to initiate any substantial welfare reform. Clinton attacked the president for this failure, promising, if elected, to “end welfare as we know it.” Clinton's victory