Welfare Reform in Philadelphia: Implementation, Effects, and Experiences of Poor Families and Neighborhoods

Michalopoulos, C., Edin, K., Fink, B., Iandriscina, M., Polit, D., Polyne, J..& Verma, N.

The 1996 welfare reform law called for profound changes in welfare policy, including a five-year time limit on federally funded cash assistance (known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF), stricter work requirements, and greater flexibility for states in designing and managing programs. The law's supporters hoped that it would spark innovation and reduce welfare use; critics feared that it would lead to cuts in benefits and to widespread suffering. Whether the reform succeeds or fails depends largely on what happens in big cities, where poverty and welfare receipt are most concentrated. This report - one of a series from MDRC's Project on Devolution and Urban Change - examines the specific ways in which reform unfolded in Philadelphia. The study uses field research, state records, surveys and ethnographic interviews of welfare recipients, and indicators of social and economic trends to assess TANF's implementation and effects. Because of the strong economy and ample funding for services in the late 1990s, the study captures welfare reform in the best of times but focuses on the poorest families and neighborhoods.

Wagner Faculty