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Report Number P70-94
Gordon H. Lester and Jan Tin
Component ID: #ti367360287


The August 1996 passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), also known as welfare reform, gave states considerable flexibility and greater responsibility in formulating and implementing initiatives to reduce welfare dependency and to encourage employment for members of low-income families with children. Under the PRWORA, most welfare recipients face a 60-month time limit in federal funding and must meet certain work requirements to receive assistance. Even prior to the entactment of PRWORA, however, several states modified their welfare programs under waviers granted by the federal government, which allowed them to implement innovative demonstration projects to move people from welfare to work.

Changes in the welfare system, both under waivers and the PRWORA legislation, have increased the interest in information about the degree to which certain groups of people are involved in assistance programs; about the characteristics of program participants; about the kinds of programs they use; and about the intensity and extent of their participation. Of particular interest is how people's participation extends over time.

This report focuses on participation and on the characteristics of participants in the following major means-tested public-assistance programs:1

  • Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • General Assistance (GA)
  • Food stamps
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Medicaid
  • Housing assistance.

The data cover calendar years 1996 through 1999,2 a time just before and after federal welfare reform was enacted. The data provide a set of baseline estimates for the study of the effects of the reforms.3

1 Means-tested programs are those that require income and/or assets of the individual or family to be below specified thresholds in order to qualify for benefits. These programs provide cash and noncash assistance to eligible individuals and families.

2 The longitudinal estimates presented here are based on people who were interviewed in all waves of the reference period, or for whom imputed information exist. Efforts were made during the life of the panel to ensure that the sample remained representative of the noninstitutional population of the United States. People who moved were followed to their new address. If the people included in the estimates have different experiences in program participation than the people who did not respond initially, left the sample, or missed two or more consecutive waves, these longitudinal estimates may be biased. The panel consists of four rotations interviewed in consecutive months. For rotations with missing data at the beginning of 1996 or end of 1999, imputations were made on the basis of the closest month of data available. Rotation 3 had 1 month of data imputed in 1996, rotation 4 had 2 months imputed in that year, and rotation 1 had 1 month of imputed data in 1999.

3 Part of the PRWORA law directed the Census Bureau to field a new survey, whose purpose is to collect the data necessary to evaluate the impact of the change. To carry out that directive, the Census Bureau began conducting the Survey of Program Dynamics (SPD). The SPD simultaneously describes the full range of state welfare programs along with social, economic, demographic, and family changes that will help or limit the effectiveness of the reforms. The Census Bureau collected data for households previously interviewed in SIPP from 1992-1994 or 1993-1995 for each of the 6 years from 1996 through 2002. Cross-sectional data from SPD were released after the 1997, 1998, and 1999 surveys. The first longitudinal file from SPD was released in the summer of 2001 covering 1992-1994 and 1996-1997 and the second longitudinal file was released in the fall of 2002 covering 1992-1994 and 1996-1999. Other releases are planned. For more information about SPD, see the SPD Web site, at

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