An Interim Report Card on Welfare Time Limits


Of all the fundamental changes that have swept through the nation’s welfare system over the past several years, the introduction of time limits on welfare receipt is one of the most dramatic. This report summarizes the results to date from studies of several of the earliest state welfare reform initiatives to include time limits. The reforms were initiated under waivers of federal welfare rules between mid-1994 and early 1996, prior to the passage of the 1996 federal welfare law; thus, these states’ experiences provide some of the first reliable evidence on the operation and impacts of welfare time limits.

This is the third document produced by MDRC as part of the Cross-State Study of Time-Limited Welfare. Funded by private foundations — the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation — the Cross-State Study was designed to synthesize and disseminate lessons from the first experiments with welfare time limits. MDRC — a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with more than two decades’ experience designing and studying social policy initiatives — is conducting large-scale evaluations of several of the earliest state time-limit programs; the results described here are drawn from these evaluations as well as from studies being conducted by other organizations.

The story of time-limited welfare is still unfolding. Only a few states imposed time limits before late 1996, and most of the time limits are at least two years. Thus, as of this writing, only a few thousand families nationwide have reached a time limit. This means it is far too early to know how families will fare after they have reached time limits. Nevertheless, enough has been learned in the past few years to issue an interim report card on this important policy approach.