Welfare, the Family, and Reproductive Behavior: Report of a Meeting
On August 22, 1996, President Clinton signed Public Law 104–193, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, a sweeping reform of several of the main federal programs providing cash and in-kind assistance to poor people. The welfare program that had always attracted the most public discussion, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), was replaced by Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Under AFDC, federal funds had matched state expenditures on programs, with eligibility criteria set by the federal government. TANF is a block grant program, intended to give states much greater latitude in determining eligibility and benefit levels. The section of the 1996 act that set up TANF listed four goals of the new legislation, two of which can be considered primarily "demographic":
"prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of these pregnancies" and
"encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families."1
Welfare reforms with similar aims had in fact already begun at the state level. The 1981 Omnibus Budget and Reconciliation Act had allowed states to obtain waivers of federal AFDC rules to allow them to conduct demonstrations of new eligibility, work, and other requirements. By the time the 1996 act was passed, 47 states had applied for one or more waivers, and the federal government had approved nearly 140 state demonstrations of alternative welfare policies.
The reforms aimed most directly at influencing fertility decisions were the ''family cap" provisions, under which second and subsequent births to women already receiving assistance result in reduced, or zero, increases in payments. By August 1996, 21 states had received approval for waivers for such family caps. The 1996 act allows, but does not force, states to impose family caps, offering a federal bonus to the five states that most decrease their number of out-of-wedlock births without increasing the abortion rate (P.L. 104–193, Sect. 403(E)(2)).
The welfare reform debate largely focused on AFDC, but demographic behaviors may be affected by eligibility for, and the generosity of, several other programs providing cash and in-kind transfers, including Medicaid, the food stamp program, other nutrition and health programs, housing assistance, and general assistance.
State governors and legislators implementing and redesigning TANF are confronting the issues of whether and how income support programs affect the most basic personal decisions about marriage, childbearing, and childbearing. Those evaluating the effects of the changes need to ask: Do the program changes decrease the number of children born outside marriage? Do they encourage abortion? Do they encourage marriage? And how will we know?
On May 2–3, 1996, the Committee on Population and the Board on Children, Youth, and Families of the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council and Institute of Medicine convened a Workshop on Welfare Reform and the Family and Reproductive Behavior. Its purpose was to bring together experts in demographic and family studies, along with researchers and officials familiar with the welfare programs, to assess what we know and what we need to know about effects of welfare on marriage, fertility-related behavior, and the family, especially children. The agenda for the workshop appears in the appendix.
This document provides a summary of presentations and discussions at the meeting. It also reflects the subsequent revisions made by authors of papers presented at the workshop, as well as other recent research. Given the lead time required for states to implement changes, for people to change behavior, and for evaluators and researchers to document what is happening, the empirical work discussed here of necessity documents behavior under the "old regime." But the premise for the workshop and for this publication is that these studies can provide important information about the effects of benefit programs on demographic behavior and about how to evaluate them, which is needed more than ever in this latest phase of welfare reform. The states are still busy designing and redesigning programs, and much of the research addresses the key issue of how behavior