ANNAPOLIS – Welfare reform has successfully moved Maryland recipients to jobs and independence without harming children and families, according to preliminary results of the nation’s first study in the wake of new federal policies.
“Life After Welfare Reform: An Interim Report” tracked 1,600 state cases from October 1, 1996 to June 1997. By analyzing administrative data and client interviews from local Departments of Social Services, researchers learned that:
* The typical family leaving the rolls was headed by a female (96 percent) who was African-American (66 percent) and single (98.1 percent) with one child (47.7 percent).
* During the first three to six months, fewer than one in five families returned to temporary cash assistance.
* During the nine months studied, 33,727 cases were closed or dropped from the rolls at least once. When recidivism did occur, it happened quickly. More than half those who returned to welfare did so within 30 days.
* Of 1,810 children whose families left welfare during the first six months, only three from a single family entered foster care.
The report’s authors believe it is the first study of closed cases since federal reforms took effect Oct. 1, 1996.
“Maryland took a risk in subjecting itself to this kind of scrutiny,” said Catherine Born, a professor at the University of Maryland at Baltimore School of Social Work, which conducted the study with the state Department of Human Resources. The study was mandated by a Senate bill passed last year.
Lynda Fox, DHR deputy secretary, and Born presented the study’s findings to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Welfare Reform.
“I am pleased with the initial findings and this proves that welfare reform is working,” Fox said.
Fox said she was glad to see that the people employed were earning wages consistent with the minimum wage, which is currently $5.15 per hour.
Fox also said the study ran counter to child advocates’ predictions that children would wind up in foster care.
Lynda Meade, director of social concerns for Catholic Charities, was among those who worried that children would suffer under welfare reform. She was pleased that the study showed this is not happening.
Fox said another important finding was the low number of families receiving sanctions.
Prior to October 1996, if recipients did not meet child support or work requirements, the adult in the family lost temporary cash assistance. Now, if the requirements are not met, the whole family is sanctioned.
The study shows that less than 5 percent of recipients were given work-related sanctions and less than one percent were given sanctions because of non-compliance with child support.
Meade said even though she was surprised at the low number of sanctions, she is concerned that families will not have enough money to sustain themselves if they do get sanctioned.
“If there is no cash in the household, how are they surviving?” Meade asked.
But Meade was glad to see a study done on the impact of welfare reform.
“I think it is great Maryland cares enough about families to look at the system and especially what’s happening to the family,” she said.
When the study is completed, UMAB will have tracked more than 2,000 families for at least two years.