Developments in Policy: Welfare Reform

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Yale Law & Policy Review, Vol: 16, Issue: 1, Page: 7

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On August 22, 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 ("PRA"), which aimed, as its name suggests, to reform the welfare system into "a second chance, not a way of life." The sweeping law attempted to break the cycle of welfare dependency among the poor by severely restricting eligibility for federal benefits and instituting workplace-oriented reforms that would promote individual self-reliance. Among its more controversial and landmark measures, the law (1) cut benefits for certain legal immigrants with the explicit justification of fostering self-reliance and reducing the public assistance incentive to immigrate to the United States; (2) limited benefits to children by requiring that single parents find work after two years on welfare or risk losing benefits; and (3) required states to create workfare programs by penalizing those states that fail to move half their caseloads into some work activity by 2002. In a further twist, the law delegated to states the entire implementation of welfare programs. States were given one year to comply with the reform measures, or they risked losing federal assistance.