Understanding the AFDC/TANF Child-Only Caseload: Policies, Composition, and Characteristics in Three States. Introduction


Under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996, most families receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) are subject to work requirements and time limits on benefit receipt. However, one portion of the TANF caseload, cases where only a child or children are receiving assistance, are generally exempt from these federal requirements. These "child-only" cases are not currently growing in absolute numbers but are becoming an increasing proportion of the overall TANF caseload. This has led to increasing interest in understanding the characteristics of child-only cases and the program services they receive.

A variety of circumstances result in child-only cases. In some cases, the child is not living with a parent, but with a relative, who chooses not to be included in the assistance group or whose income and assets preclude him or her from receiving cash assistance. In other situations, the child is living with a parent, but the parent is a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipient, a non-qualified alien, a qualified alien who entered the country after August 1996, a sanctioned adult, or otherwise excluded.(1)

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) contracted with The Lewin Group to obtain more information about the characteristics and trends of the child-only population, focusing on three states: California, Florida, and Missouri. The Lewin Group interviewed state officials and staff, conducted case file reviews, and analyzed administrative data to understand the trends in the child-only caseload and the policies and practices that affect this population.

This chapter presents an overview of the 1996 welfare legislation, discusses the national TANF and child-only caseload trends, examines the characteristics of child-only cases, and outlines the study questions and the methodology and data used to answer these questions. Chapter 2 examines the policies in the three states chosen for the study, while Chapter 3 analyzes the characteristics of the child-only cases in the three states. Chapter 4 concludes with a summary of the findings and the implications this analysis has on future research.