ReWORKing Welfare Technical Assistance for States and Localities. Appendix A: Work-Related Provisions of the 1996 Federal Welfare Legislation


This appendix summarizes the work-related provisions of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. The legislation converts the former Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program into block grants to states, giving individual states great control over the shape of their welfare programs. The legislation also includes some constraints on the use of block grant funds and some conditions for the receipt of funds. In particular, it sets high standards for participation in work activities.

This summary is not comprehensive, and many provisions of the law have yet to be interpreted. However, it can help policymakers and administrators understand how their work first program model will fit into the context of the federal legislation.

Participation Requirements

Participation rates. States must meet the following minimum rates of participation for those receiving assistance:

                                      Participation Rate (%)               

          Year                 All Families          Two-Parent Families    

 1997                      25%                      75%                     

 1998                      30                       75                      

 1999                      35                       90                      

 2000                      40                       90                      

 2001                      45                       90                      

 2002+                     50                       90                      

Reduction of the participation rates. The rates are reduced by the number of percentage points by which average monthly caseloads of the last fiscal year are below FY 1995 caseloads. Caseload reductions due to changes in federal law or in eligibility criteria do not count toward reducing the participation requirement.

Calculation of the participation rates. The rate for a fiscal year equals the average of 12 monthly participation rates. The numerator equals the number of families receiving assistance that include an adult or minor head of household who is engaged in work (i.e., meeting the weekly hours requirement in allowable activities, defined below). The denominator equals the total number of families receiving assistance that include an adult or minor head of household minus those in sanction status (but not those sanctioned more than 3 months of the past 12 months). States can exempt single parents with a child under age one from participation, and then not count them in the calculation above for up to one year per person. States can choose whether or not to include individuals receiving assistance under a tribal family assistance plan.

Hours requirements. To count toward the participation requirements, parents must participate for at least the following number of hours per week:

                         Number of Hours of Participation Per Week        

       Year         All Families    Single Parents with      Two-Parent     
                                     a Child Under Six        Families      

 1997               20 hours        20 hours              35 hours          

 1998               20              20                    35                

 1999               25              20                    35                

 2000+              30              20                    35                

In addition, if a two-parent family is receiving federally funded child care assistance and an adult in the family is not disabled or caring for a disabled child, then in order to count toward the participation rates, the second parent must also participate for at least 20 hours per week.

Allowable Activities

At least 20 hours per week for all families and 30 hours per week for two-parent families must be spent in one or more of the following activities:

  • Unsubsidized employment
  • Subsidized private-sector employment
  • Subsidized public-sector employment
  • Work experience
  • On-the-job training
  • Job search and job readiness assistance (for up to six weeks total per individual-or 12 weeks if the state unemployment rate is 50 percent greater than the national rate-and not for more than four consecutive weeks; participation for three or four days in a week counts as a week toward the participation rates only once per individual)
  • Community service programs
  • Vocational educational training (up to 12 months per individual; see below for a description of the limitation on percentage of caseload in this activity)
  • Provision of child care services to an individual participating in community service


The remaining required hours may be in the above or the following activities:

  • Job skills training directly related to employment
  • Education directly related to employment (only for those who do not have a high school diploma or equivalent)
  • Satisfactory attendance at secondary school or in a course of study leading to a certificate of general equivalence (only for those who do not have a high school diploma or equivalent)


Teen heads of household can meet the participation requirements by maintaining satisfactory attendance in high school or the equivalent (without being subject to the specific hourly requirements) or by participating in education directly related to employment for at least the minimum number of hours per week.

No more than 20 percent of individuals in all families can meet the requirements by participating in vocational educational training or being a teen head of household in school.

Penalties for individuals. If parents refuse to participate, the state shall reduce assistance at least pro rata with respect to the period of noncompliance or terminate assistance (subject to good cause and other exceptions determined by the state).

States cannot reduce or terminate assistance for refusal to work if a single parent with a child under age six can prove an inability (as determined by the state) to obtain needed child care, for one or more of the following reasons: unavailability of appropriate child care within a reasonable distance from the individual's home or worksite; unavailability or unsuitability of informal child care by a relative or under other arrangements; unavailability of appropriate and affordable formal child care arrangements.

Penalties for states. A state's block grant will be reduced by up to 5 percent for not meeting the participation requirements, plus up to an additional 2 percent each immediately successive year in which the rates are not met, up to a maximum of 21 percent. (The exact amount is to be determined on the basis of the severity of the failure to meet the requirements.) If a state's grant is cut because of a penalty, it must replace the reduced funds with state funds in the next fiscal year. There are also rules and a process governing compliance and the imposition of penalties.

Other Work Provisions

Work required after two years. Among other things, the plan that states must submit in order to receive block grant funding must describe how the state intends to require parents to engage in work (as defined by the state) once they have received assistance for 24 months or once the state determines that they are ready to engage in work, whichever is earlier.

Community service required after two months. Not later than one year after enactment, states must require parents who have received assistance for two months, who are not meeting the participation requirements, and who are not exempt from those requirements to participate in community service employment. The minimum number of hours per week and community service tasks are determined by the state. States can opt out of this requirement.

Individual responsibility plan. States must make an initial assessment of the skills, prior work experience, and employability of recipients who are 18 or older, or who do not have a high school diploma or the equivalent and are not attending high school. On the basis of that assessment, states have the option of developing a plan that sets forth an employment goal, obligations, and services that are designed to move the recipient into private-sector employment as quickly as possible.

Other Related Provisions

Time limit. States cannot use federal block grant funds for families that include an adult who has received assistance (attributable to federal funds) for 60 months, whether consecutive or not. States can exempt up to 20 percent of the caseload from the time limit.

Teen parents. States cannot use federal block grant funds to assist an unmarried parent under 18 who has a child at least 12 weeks old and who has not completed high school (or its equivalent) unless the parent is in school, a GED program, or an alternative education or training program approved by the state. Block grant funds also cannot be used to provide assistance to an unmarried parent under 18 who is not living at home or in another adult-supervised setting, unless the state determines that such an arrangement is not appropriate.

Child care. Child care funding is consolidated into a block grant to states. At least 70 percent of mandatory funds must be used for families who are receiving assistance under the state's welfare block grant program, are in transition off assistance through work activities, or are at risk of becoming dependent on assistance. A "substantial portion" of any additional amount should be used to provide assistance to low-income working families.

Continuation of waivers. States can opt to continue one or more waivers that were in effect as of the date of enactment (August 22, 1996). Until the waiver expires, the legislation does not apply to the extent that it is inconsistent with the waiver. The same holds true for waivers submitted before enactment and approved by July 1, 1997, except that the work requirements still apply. States that choose to continue a waiver will still receive the same amount of block grant funding. States that request termination of a waiver no later than 90 days after the end of the first regularly scheduled legislative session after the bill becomes law will be held harmless for any cost-neutrality liabilities incurred under the waiver.