Timeline and Glossary

Since its inception as part of the Social Security Bill to help counteract the devastation of the Great Depression in the mid 1920s, it has evolved, through various reforms, to the system that exists today. While the original goal of welfare was simply to supply financial assistance to families in need, reforms since the late 1980s emphasize leading families toward financial self-sufficiency. Critics argue that in their haste to achieve this goal, government officials' most recent spate of policies are pushing families off welfare before they are adequately able to support themselves above the poverty line.

Timeline of National Welfare Reform

January 17, 1935
Social Security Bill is passed by the Roosevelt administration in the midst of The Great Depression. This bill includes the original requirements for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), or "welfare," and other relief programs such as old age benefits, unemployment insurance and aid to the blind.

December 1940
360,000 families are receiving AFDC payments.

The number of AFDC recipients grows by 110,000 families.

The number of AFDC recipients grows by 800,000 families.

The Public Welfare Amendments of 1962, signed by President John F. Kennedy, are laws passed to encourage states to provide social services leading to self-care and self-support.

Economic Opportunity Act passes Congress promoted as President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty." This act is one of several social programs that came to be known as the "Great Society."

Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (JOBS) act passed by Congress to assist the poor in moving from welfare to work.

Purchasing power of the AFDC dollar drops by an average of 42 percent from 1970 to 1990.
Food stamps do not suffer the same fate since they were indexed for inflation starting 1972.

Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 becomes law. The AFDC is replaced with block grants for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

August 5, 1997
The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 becomes law and creates a new three billion-dollar welfare to work grant. The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 also becomes law and expands the Work Opportunity Tax Credit Program and creates the welfare to work Tax Credit (These tax credits are available to employers who hire certain recipients of public assistance).

October 8, 1997
Slightly less than 105 million Americans are now on welfare. Former President Bill Clinton announces an "unprecedented decline" in the nation's welfare rolls, a drop of 3.6 million since he took office.

There are approximately 6,676,000 families that live at or below the poverty line. A family of three with a net income under $12,228 is considered to be living below the poverty line. In Maine, for example, the maximum benefit for a family of three is $461 per month.

Congress will reconsider the reauthorization of TANF block grants to states. At that time if Congress finds that the funds were unspent or poorly handled, the program could be cut by billions of dollars.


Aid to Families with Dependent Children Title IV-A of Social Security Act. This section of the federal law required states to provide assistance to all families who applied and met the eligibility criteria established by state and national policy. BACK TO TIMELINE

Economic Opportunity Act: The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 (EOA) was the centerpiece of the "War on Poverty," which in turn was a major thrust of "The Great Society" legislative agenda of the Lyndon Johnson administration. The EOA provided for job training, adult education, and loans to small businesses to attack the roots of unemployment and poverty. BACK TO TIMELINE

The Great Society: "The Great Society" was the nickname given to the program that was president Lyndon B. Johnson' s agenda for Congress in January 1965: aid to education, attack on disease, Medicare, urban renewal, beautification, conservation, development of depressed regions, a wide-scale fight against poverty, control and prevention of crime and delinquency, removal of obstacles to the right to vote. BACK TO TIMELINE

Job Opportunities and Basic Skills: The Family Support Act of 1988 created JOBS, a comprehensive welfare-to-work program. JOBS provided recipients of AFDC with the opportunity to take part in job training, work and education-related activities that lead to economic self-sufficiency. JOBS also provided welfare recipients with necessary support services, such as transportation and childcare, which allow them to participate actively in the program. By the late-eighties a movement to change traditional welfare was gaining momentum. Both liberals and conservatives were beginning to believe the goal of welfare should be to help families move towards self-sufficiency. Even the American Civil Liberties Union supported reforms to the current welfare system. Rifts would later form, however, over the exact mechanism for how families should shift from assistance to independent work. Reform radicals considered JOBS a light reform measure since its programs were not mandatory for families receiving aide. BACK TO TIMELINE

Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act: The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 ends the federal entitlement of individuals to cash assistance under Title IV-A (AFDC), giving states complete flexibility to determine eligibility and benefits levels. Under the new law, Title IV-A funds are replaced with block grants for temporary assistance for needy families (TANF). State plans filed with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services must explain the states' use of these funds. In the plans, a state must establish criteria for delivering benefits and determining eligibility and for providing fair and equitable treatment to recipients. The state must also explain how it will provide an administrative appeals process for recipients. The federal law limits the provision of TANF to families with a minor child or pregnant woman, imposes a time limit on the receipt of benefits, requires that a family's benefit be reduced if parents do not cooperate with child support officials, denies assistance to individuals convicted of a drug felony, denies assistance for 10 years to any person convicted of fraud in the receipt of benefits in two or more states and denies assistance to teen parents not living in an adult-supervised setting. BACK TO TIMELINE

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families: The new name given to AFDC. Under the Social Security Act of 1935 states were required to keep providing AFDC aid, or "welfare," as long as a family remained eligible under federally regulated requirements. Under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, an eligible family can only receive TANF aid, or "welfare," for a total of 60 months. After this period of time federal law prohibits states from using federal TANF funds to provide assistance. This is a permanent or lifetime bar. Since government assistance to poor families is now only temporary, federal and state governments must rely on welfare to workfare programs to help families make the transition to self-sufficiency. BACK TO TIMELINE

Balanced Budget Act of 1997: The balanced Budget Reconciliation Act contains welfare and Medicaid provisions. One of these provisions was a $3 billion Welfare-to-Work Grant Program that would be structured so that 75 percent of the funds would be provided through formula grants to states. The formula would be based on the amount of a state's population under the poverty level, the state's unemployment rate, and its welfare caseload. BACK TO TIMELINE

Unprecedented decline: While welfare reform had cut caseloads by 3.6 million in 1997, critics argue that statistics show millions of families still struggling to make ends meet. Once families are dropped off welfare polls the government no longer tracks them. BACK TO TIMELINE

TANF block grants: Various states supplant TANF dollars: replacing state dollars with TANF dollars on activities that are not welfare related. These activities are legal uses of TANF funding. Critics argue that such uses of TANF funds are inappropriate since studies show that poverty is still a major problem in most states. Critics also fear that such uses will result in congress cutting TANF block funds when they finish considering the reauthorization of TANF in 2002. BACK TO TIMELINE


Search Beat, Welfare Reform Timeline
U.S. Census Bureau State Documentation Project The Social Security Act (Act of August 14, 1935) [H.R. 7260]
Welfare Information Network