Meaning of the Family-Cap Policy for Poor Women: Contraceptive and Fertility Decision-Making

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Social Work in Public Health, Vol: 23, Issue: 1, Page: 165-182

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Romero, Diana, PhD, MA; Fortune-Greely, Hannah, MPH; Verea, Jorge Luis, MD; Salas-Lopez, Debbie, MD, MPH
Community Health and Preventive Medicine; Medical Sciences; Medicine and Health Sciences; Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration; Public Health; Social Welfare; Women's Health
article description
In 1996 the US Congress enacted welfare reform legislation. In addition to new lifetime time limits and work requirements for those receiving cash and other forms of social assistance, the states could impose policies pertaining to reproductive-related behaviors of poor women. One such policy is the so-called “family-cap,” which denies additional income support to poor women who have a baby while receiving cash assistance; 24 states have implemented such policies. The ostensible goal of the policy is to limit fertility among current cash assistance recipients. This pilot study sought to explore whether poor women in a family-cap state (NJ) base their reproductive decisions on welfare policies and/or economic factors. We conducted combined quantitative and qualitative interviews with 32 current and former welfare recipients in both urban and rural sections of the state. The main questions were whether women knew about the family-cap policy, if it influenced their reproductive decision-making, and, if so, in what direction? We found that most women were not aware of the policy and did not view it as relevant to their reproductive-related decisions. These findings raise the issue as to whether the family-cap is working as policymakers intended, and support further examination of the consequences of potentially increased economic hardship on already-poor families.