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


Child-only cases, with the exception of sanctioned cases in some states, are not subject to a time limit. Nevertheless, states' time limit policies can influence the number of cases that become child-only in two ways. First, states that remove the parents from the assistance group but continue to provide assistance to the children at the time limit, automatically convert regular cases to child-only cases. Second, states that reduce or terminate cash assistance at the time limit impose economic hardships on families, possibly leading to some children moving in with relatives or other caretakers who are better able to care for them, and thus, leading to an increase in child-only cases with non-parental caregivers.

Of the three states studied, only Florida welfare recipients have begun to reach the time limit. In California and Missouri, the discussion presented in this section focuses more on how states intend to implement these policies when individuals begin reaching the time limit and the methods used for tracking the time limit.

1. Time Limit Policy

Exhibit 2.4 provides basic information on the time limit policies. The policies discussed in this section applies to the caseload that is not exempt; states can exempt 20 percent of its caseload from the five-year federal time limit and continue to provide assistance to this group using the federal block grant. In addition, states may exempt more than 20 percent and provide assistance using state funding.

Exhibit 2.4
Time Limit Policy in Three States
  California Florida Missouri
Length of Time Limit
  • CalWORKs imposes a 60-month lifetime limit on welfare eligibility for adult recipients.
  • New applicants are eligible to receive assistance for 18 cumulative months; current recipients are eligible for 24 cumulative months.
  • Applicants and recipients can continue to receive aid after the 18- and 24-month time limits if the county certifies that there is no job currently available for the individual and the recipient participates in community service.
  • Most receive a 24-month time limit out of 60 consecutive months; long-term recipients with poor job skills or limited education receive a 36-month time limit out of 72 months.
  • Recipients have a lifetime limit of 48 months.
  • Recipients are limited to 60-months of TANF assistance.
What happens at time limit?
  • Children of adults who reach the lifetime limit fall under the Safety Net and will continue to be aided by vouchers or cash, at the county option. Case becomes child-only.
  • Compliant recipients are eligible for a hardship exemption of up to 12 months of additional benefits, not to exceed the 48-month lifetime limit. Adults continue to be on the grant.
  • If ineligible for hardship exemption and state determines children would be at risk of entering foster care, children receive benefits through a protective payee (case is child-only).
  • Time limits apply to the entire assistance unit. Case is closed.
When did/will families begin reaching time limit?
  • December 2001
  • October 1998
  • July 2002

(a) California

California's TANF program, CalWORKs, places time limits on adult's TANF receipt, but not on children's benefits, meaning the case becomes child-only after the adults reach the cumulative five-year time limit. Counties may decide whether to provide benefits for the children in the form of cash or vouchers.(6) The five-year time limit does not apply to sanctioned cases.

Because the CalWORKs program was not implemented until 1998, well after PRWORA was signed, the state has to track two time limits: the federal time limit, starting December 1996, and the state time limit, starting January 1998. Both are five-year time limits, but some individuals will reach the federal time limit first (starting in December 2001). If the 20 percent exemption limit has been exceeded, the state will have to use state funding to provide assistance to these individuals. Welfare recipients will not reach the state time limit until January 2003.

Within the five-year time limit, applicants are eligible for 18 cumulative months and current recipients are eligible for 24 cumulative months of aid. Aid can continue after the 18- and 24-month cumulative time limits if the county certifies that there is no job currently available and the recipient participates in community service. Counties may also extend the 18-month time limit for up to 6 months if the extension is likely to result in unsubsidized employment or employment is not available in the local labor market.

(b) Florida

Florida's WAGES program limits most welfare recipients to 24 months of assistance over a 60-month period. Certain individuals - long-term recipients or individuals under age 24 who have not completed high school or have little or no work experience - are assigned a 36-month time limit out of a 72-month period. The clock is extended by one month for each month welfare recipients work, up to 12 months. All welfare recipients are limited to 48 months over their lifetime.

Unlike California, the time limit applies to the household and not just the adults of the household. This means that at the time limit, the state terminates the family's cash assistance, although the family is still eligible for food stamps and Medicaid. Two exceptions to this policy are allowed. First, exemptions of up to 12 months are offered to individuals who have "diligently participated in WAGES" and still not found employment (not exceeding the 48-month time limit). Adults continue to receive assistance on the grant, and the case is not child-only. Another exception is made when a hardship exemption is not granted, but Child Protection Services (CPS) reviews the case and determines that the child is likely to be placed into an emergency shelter or foster care as a result of case closure. In this situation, a protective payee is assigned to the case and the benefits for the children are paid to the protective payee, making the case a child-only case; however, the 48-month lifetime limit still applies to the children.

(c) Missouri

Missouri's TANF program applies the five-year lifetime limit to the household. Thus, the case closes when the time limit is reached. The child will continue to be eligible if he or she were to move in with another adult after the first household reached the time limit and is eligible when he or she becomes an adult. Five-year time limits in Missouri went into effect July 1997 and will be reached in July 2002. At this point, there are no provisions in the policy that will convert regular cases to child-only cases at the time limit.

2. Implementing the Time Limit

Clearly, for time limits to affect child-only caseloads, welfare departments must be able to track the number of months of benefits clients are receiving. In addition, time limits will only influence child-only caseloads if states take action when families reach the limits.

(a) How are staff tracking the time limit?

In Alameda, as discussed above, eligibility workers have to monitor the federal time limit and the state time limit. Both are five-year time limits, although individuals will reach the federal time limit first. This complex tracking must be done for fiscal purposes, to determine when to provide assistance from state funding and not from the federal block grant. The state is currently implementing a statewide-automated welfare data tracking system. The system will contain information regarding the 18- or 24- and 60-month time limits; welfare benefits received from the counties; and county-specific information on exemptions, exceptions, and sanctions.

In Duval County, the eligibility workers monitor the number of months of assistance both manually, on paper forms that are included in each case file, and electronically, in the automated case management system. The time limit follows the adults as they move from one case to another and the system should track this movement.

In Jackson, eligibility workers track the time limit by manually counting the months; the computer system has not been adapted to keep count of the number of months left on the clock.

(b) What will happen when families reach the time limit?

Since welfare recipients have not begun to reach the time limit in California and Missouri, and are only beginning to reach the time limit in Florida, questions remain regarding how cases will be handled at the time limit which will have an effect on child-only caseloads. For example, in California, counties may extend assistance to adults who have reached the five-year time limit if they meet particular conditions.(7) In Missouri, it is still unclear how these cases will be treated, although the policy calls for the closure of these cases. In Florida, welfare recipients have begun to reach the time limit but many are currently being offered benefit extensions. As more families reach the end of their extensions, the financial hardship could lead to an increase in the number of children who are left with relatives.