Early implementation studies of TANF suggest that states have made significant progress in shifting to a more work-oriented assistance system. Welfare caseloads have fallen 49 percent in the United States since the enactment of TANF, and the proportion of recipients who were working reached an all-time high of 33 percent in fiscal year 1999, compared to less than 11 percent in 1996. The dramatic decline in the TANF caseload has spawned numerous research studies to examine the circumstances of families who left the welfare rolls. With caseloads appearing to have leveled off in some states, however, policymakers and program administrators are now focusing more attention on those who remain on welfare. Yet there is currently little research that describes the characteristics and needs of these families.
While it is likely that some of the families on TANF began receiving benefits only recently, others are likely to have been receiving them for some time, and they may soon be affected by the programs time limits. Although there is limited information on the characteristics of families remaining on the TANF rolls, there is widespread concern that, one, these families face
more barriers to employment than families who have already left the welfare rolls, and, two, they will need more assistance in moving from welfare to work than most welfare employment programs are now capable of providing. With the additional information on the characteristics and needs of TANF recipients that will be provided by this task-order project and the ASPE-funded studies by states, policymakers and program administrators will be in a better position to decide both how to help these families make the transition from welfare to work, and how to address the needs of those who may lose their benefits due to time limits.