In his April 6 letter “Welfare Encourages Irresponsible Behavior,” Nick Kyriazi states that “Our welfare system has, as its primary goal, to keep people on welfare forever, and to increase the number of people on welfare.” He is badly misinformed.
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 had as its purpose to “end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work and marriage.” To accomplish this objective, the law replaced a former program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children with a federal-state program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Adult TANF recipients, with some exceptions, must be engaged in work or work-readiness programs in order to retain their eligibility. Such adults are eligible for TANF benefits for no more than five years in a lifetime. From its inception in 1996 to 2008 TANF caseloads declined by 47 percent.
Poor children are not responsible for their own poverty. Children comprise three-quarters of all TANF recipients. In nearly half of TANF cases, only children, but no adults, are receiving benefits. In 1997, slightly more than 50 percent of the children living in poverty were receiving TANF support. In 2011 only 20.1 percent were receiving such support.
When TANF was introduced 20 percent of all children were living in poverty. Seventeen years later, almost 21 percent of all children are living in poverty, but only one-fifth of those poor children receive any TANF support. One might argue that the basic failure of the program is that it does nothing to decrease poverty or to improve the lifetime prospects of children who are born into poverty.