Setting the Baseline: A Report on State Welfare Waivers. Section 2: Time Limits


AFDC Requirement: Under the AFDC rules, families were entitled to receive assistance for as long as they met the eligibility standards. There was no federal limit on the length of time a family could receive aid, and states could not impose such limits.

Waivers: Due to concerns that families were becoming dependent on AFDC and accepting welfare as a way of life, a number of states applied for and received waivers setting time limits on welfare receipt. By the time AFDC was repealed, a total of 32 states had received waivers authorizing some form of time limits. The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), an advocacy organization, developed a useful taxonomy for classifying the various time limit waivers into three broad categories. Under this classification, "termination" time limits resulted in a total loss of AFDC benefits for families who have used up their time. "Work requirement" time limits imposed mandatory work requirements on families that reached the time limits, but did not cut off aid so long as participants complied with the work requirements. "Reduction" time limits reduced the amount of assistance that a family could receive after they had been on welfare for a certain period of time, either by a set percentage, or by removing the adults' needs from the grant.

Table II.A lists the states that received approval for each kind of pre-TANF time limit waiver. Some states created more than one kind of time limit. For example, Illinois applied a work requirement time limit to families with young children, and a termination time limit to families with older children, and Delaware provided two years of unrestricted cash assistance, followed by two years of pay for performance. It should be noted that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between a work requirement that includes a full-family sanction for failure to participate after a certain period of time, and a time limit that allows families to continue to receive assistance only if they participate in a work program. For this reason, different lists compiled by various organizations do not always count all the same states as having time limits.

Table II.B describes the provisions of the pre-TANF time limits adopted by each state. Although there is much variation among states, certain factors were constant across states. In general, individuals who were JOBS-exempt or otherwise determined to be not ready to work, were not subject to the time limit. Similarly, child-only cases were not subject to time limits. The termination time limits were typically not lifetime limits, but rather limited AFDC receipt to a certain number of months within a four- to seven-year period. Such limits forced families to take immediate steps towards self-sufficiency, but provided a safety net for families that successfully get off welfare but experienced crises later on. Finally, every state with a waiver that provided for a termination time limit allowed extensions for people who substantially met all program requirements, made good faith effort to find job, and yet could not find a job. These extensions were based on the principle that people who "play by the rules" should not be penalized for circumstances beyond their control.

Because time limits are such a significant change from prior practice, many people are highly interested in studying what happens when families begin to reach the time limits. Table II.C therefore summarizes when people will start to reach the time limits under the state waivers, and what will happen to people who reach the limit. It should be emphasized that the dates listed are the earliest dates at which any families in the state could reach the time limits; in practice, relatively few families will exhaust their benefits so quickly. Many recipients will have been off AFDC for short periods, so will not accumulate 24 months of receipt in a 24-month period. In addition, people already on AFDC when time limits were implemented were typically not subject to the time limits (i.e. "the clock did not start ticking") until their next redetermination. As indicated on this chart, based on their waivers Florida and Connecticut are the first states in which some families will begin to reach termination time limits. In both states, the time limits were first implemented in limited areas, so the number of families reaching the limits will be quite small at first. Oregon has the first program with time limits operating statewide in which families will reach termination time limits, in August 1997. Under the terms of its waiver, no more than 1 percent of the Oregon caseload or 400 cases may receive a "good faith" extension to the time limit in any month.

TANF Provision: The new law combines a termination time limit and a work requirement time limit. The law forbids the use of federal funds to provide assistance to a family including an adult who has received assistance for 60 months, or less at state discretion. This time limit begins with implementation of the TANF program, and includes assistance received in another state. States are permitted to exempt up to 20 percent of their caseload from this time limit. States may use their own funds to aid families that have reached the federal time limit and may count such expenditures towards the maintenance of effort requirement.

The law also provides that states must require adults to work after they have received assistance for 24 months, or earlier at state option. States are encouraged to require adults to participate in community service after two months of assistance, if they are not engaged in other work activities, but may opt out of this provision if the Governor so informs HHS by August 22, 1997.