As research continues to document a growing proportion of child-only cases across the nation, federal and state officials have sought an explanation for this phenomenon. The issue is of particular interest in light of concerns early in the implementation of welfare reform that parents might place children with relatives to escape rigorous TANF work requirements (Duncan, 2002). The stable number of child-only cases suggests that welfare reform has not led to a large amount of "child-shifting" from parents to other relatives to access financial support for children after adult recipients lose their benefits (Farrell et al., 2000).
Several situations affecting the number of parental child-only cases offer possible explanations for the proportional growth of child-only cases overall. These include the following (Farrell et al., 2000):
- An increase in sanctions for noncompliance with program requirements. The Family Support Act (FSA) of 1988, and later PRWORA, required nonexempt welfare recipients to participate in job search, work experience, or education and training activities or be sanctioned. In recent years, many states have increased their use of sanctions that remove the parent from the assistance unit and thus convert regular TANF cases to child-only cases. Other states apply full-family sanctions, which do not lead to child-only cases.
- An increase in the number of individuals eligible for SSI. Congress enacted a series of legislation reforms in the mid-1980s and early 1990s that significantly expanded the scope of the SSI program. One of the most significant changes was the enactment of the 1984 Disability Reform Act, which expanded SSI eligibility, particularly for those with mental impairments. This expansion allowed some TANF-eligible parents to qualify for the higher level of support provided by SSI. These parents may not be eligible for TANF, depending on state policy. If they are considered ineligible for TANF, they are removed from the assistance unit, converting the case to a child-only case.
- An increase in the number of families headed by ineligible immigrants. The number of illegal aliens living in the United States began growing by about 200,000 to 300,000 each year starting in 1989. This circumstance may explain some of the growing number of child-only cases in which the parent is an ineligible immigrant. PRWORA made newly arriving legal immigrants (those arriving on or after 8/22/96) ineligible for federal TANF. PRWORA allows states to use their own resources to provide assistance to these new immigrants, and several have done so. But these new federal provisions could lead to an increase in the number of child-only cases where the parent is an immigrant who is not eligible for TANF. Also, illegal aliens continue to arrive and reside in the United States, and the citizen children of these ineligible immigrants may also be eligible for child-only TANF benefits.