At the Front Lines of the Welfare System

A Perspective on the Decline in Welfare Caseloads

By Irene Lurie

Imprint: Distribution Partners
Paperback : 9781930912175, 284 pages, July 2006

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Table of contents

List of Tables

1. Why Study Implementation?
            Past Experience Implementing Work Programs and Requirements
            An Overview of TANF
            Why Study Frontline Workers?
            Policy as Delivered: Summary and Conclusions

2. Samples, Methods, and Data Analysis
            States and Sites
            Management Interviews
            Survey of Workers
            Frontline Workers and Encounters
            Analyzing the Content of the Conversation
            Limitations of the Encounter Data

3. An Overview of Practices and Conversations at the Front Lines
            Primary Purpose of the Encounter
            The Application Process
                        Determining Eligibility
                        Work First
            Definition of “Applicant”
            Topics Discussed
            Workers’ Activities
            Routinized Activities
            Summary and Conclusion

4. Limiting Welfare Use Directly and Indirectly
            Limiting Welfare Use Directly
                        No Entitlement to Welfare
                        Time Limits 
                        Cash Diversion Payments 
            Limiting Welfare Use Indirectly 
                        Mandates to Participate in a Work-Related Activity
                        Mandates Regarding Other Government Services 
                        Mandates in the Context of Family Problems, Family Planning, and Parental Responsibilities
                        Mandates in the Context of Client Problems
            Summary and Conclusion

5. Mandating Work-Related Activities
            Work Mandates for Applicants
            Work Mandates for Recipients
                        Work Mandates for Adults
                        Work Mandates for Long-term Recipients
                        Education and Training for Teen Parents
            Variations in Work Mandates

6. Financial Inducements to Work
            Referring Clients to Jobs: Job Availability and Wage Rates
            Increasing the Financial Incentive to Work 
            Sanctioning for Noncompliance with Mandates
            Summary and Conclusion

7. Financing Child Care and Transportation to Support Work
            Child Care to Support Work Activities
            Transportation Assistance to Support Work Activities
            Implications for Meeting the Work Goals of TANF

8. Explaining Eligibility Rules for Medicaid and Food Stamps 
            Discussion of Medicaid and Food Stamps with TANF Applicants
            Discussion of Medicaid and Food Stamps for Families without TANF
            Summary and Conclusion

9. Using Information Systems to Verify Eligibility, Monitor Behavior, and Detect Fraud
            Determining Eligibility
            Monitoring Compliance with Mandates
            Detecting Fraud

10. Managing the Implementation of TANF
            Leadership by Governors and State Welfare Administrators
            System-Wide Management Changes
                        Organizational Structure and Resource Allocation
                        Mechanisms to Encourage Performance
                        Investments in Information Systems
            Management Changes within the Welfare Agencies
                        Communicating the Work Goal to Welfare Agency Staff 
                        Routinized Procedures
                        Leadership and Culture Change?

11. Conclusion
            Policy as Delivered and the Decline in Caseloads
            Reflections on the Methodology
            TANF and Poor Families

Appendix Table 1.  Definitions of Topic Codes
Appendix Table 2.  Definitions of Activity Codes
Encounter Worksheet

Examines conversations between welfare workers and their clients to understand the implementation of the 1996 welfare reform.


In the late 1990s, welfare caseloads declined sharply after the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children and gave individual states new authority to reform their welfare programs. This book analyzes conversations between welfare workers and their clients in Georgia, Michigan, New York, and Texas in order to show how the changes in policies, processes, institutions, and resources were instrumental in altering the behavior of workers on the front lines. Author Irene Lurie reveals how workers discouraged families from relying on welfare by mandating employment-related activities, operating a rigorous eligibility process for child care, monitoring clients' behavior, and detecting fraud, all of which contributed to declining caseloads.

Irene Lurie is Professor of Public Administration and Policy at the University at Albany, State University of New York.