After months of relative inactivity during the recession, welfare rolls have surged, according to a survey conducted by the Wall Street Journal and the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Of the 30 largest states, 23 have seen an increase, with Oregon leading the way with a 27 percent rise in welfare cases in May, compared to the same time last year.
For some, welfare's slow expansion during this economic crisis is proof that the reform bill signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 is working.
"To me it's good news," Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, told the Journal. Haskins helped draft the 1996 welfare reform bill as a Republican congressional staff member. "This is exactly what should happen."
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) replaced previous welfare programs as a result of the 1996 law and receives funding at both the state and federal level. TANF targets women with children and no job or very low-paying work.
As of fall 2008, roughly 1.6 million people were on the welfare rolls, the Journal reports.
"This is the first real test," Liz Schott, a welfare analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal Washington think tank, told the Journal. "We always said, how is it going to perform? How is TANF going to perform in an economic downturn?"
Extended unemployment benefits and food stamp programs, analysts believe, are a main reason for the lag in the increase of welfare cases.
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