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They say “everything is bigger in Texas,” but Texas’ welfare rolls are shrinking, and presidential hopeful and former Gov. Rick Perry (R) deserves a lot of the credit.
When Perry first became governor of Texas in 2000, the number of people enrolled in the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program was well over 300,000. Since then, the number has declined to below 80,000, and a new study says key policy changes help explain why.
On March 19, The Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank in Chicago, released its updated welfare reform report card, an analysis of every state’s welfare policies since the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) in 1996.
Passed by the Republican-led Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, PRWORA presented states with a significant opportunity to reform welfare systems. Since it became law, welfare rolls in the United States have been reduced by more than 9 million, a decrease of 73 percent.
This incredible turnaround occurred to some extent in every state, but data clearly show some state governments took advantage of the changes offered by the federal government better than other states.
In Texas, greater flexibility offered by PRWORA allowed Republican Governors George W. Bush and Perry to implement sweeping reforms to stagnant programs that were providing little, if any, success at moving people out of poverty.
Authors of the Heartland study, titled “2015 Welfare Reform Report Card,” say although academic research conducted to determine which policies are more successful than others have produced varying results, some agreement exists on which strategies lead to overall positive outcomes.
For instance, integrating welfare and other social services so that individual case managers have all the necessary tools at their disposal to assist recipients who walk through their doors is an essential part of improving welfare reform. Requiring work in order to receive benefits, mandated job training, and establishing firm limits for how long recipients can receive government aid are also important reforms that have proved to be successful for states who utilize these strategies.
Another reform, one that many pundits spend little time talking about but has produced many positive outcomes, is cash diversion. Cash diversion policies allow social services case managers to offer lump sums of money for recipients to use when there is an immediate financial need, such as when a recipient’s car breaks down. In return for the money, the recipient agrees not to receive TANF funding for an agreed-upon period. These policies help people get through tough economic trials without becoming dependent on government services.
Of the five major categories of welfare reform policies presented in Heartland’s study, Texas received exceptional scores in work requirements and cash diversion; a respectable grade of “B” in service integration; a “C” in sanctions, and a poor grade of “D” for failing to establish significant time limits for recipients. Overall, Texas’ policies were ranked 10th among all states and earned a grade of “B+.”
The study also revealed Texas’ outcomes were exceptional. Texas scored in the top 10 in unemployment, overall poverty rates, and TANF recipient decline, improving in each of those categories from Heartland’s previous report card released in 2008. Overall, Texas’ welfare reform outcomes ranked third in the United States.
Although Perry has yet to officially announce his candidacy for the Republican presidential primary, all indications are he’ll be one of the bigger names in the race once things heat up at the end of the summer. At the moment, it’s unclear what Perry’s chances are in the 2016 race, but expect the former governor to tout his record on welfare reform, and rightfully so.