The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA; PL 104-193), the welfare-reform law enacted in 1996, ended the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program and replaced it with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. AFDC was an entitlement program that guaranteed benefits to all recipients whose income and resources were below state-determined eligibility levels. However, state-determined tests of financial need for cash assistance were subject to federal guidelines and limits. Under TANF, a federal block-grant program, states have the authority to determine eligibility requirements and benefit levels. Unlike AFDC, TANF is not an entitlement program. Because of this, there is no requirement that states aid, or apply uniform rules to, all families determined financially needy. (See Chapter 2 for the specific provisions of TANF.)
For several years prior to the passage of the controversial welfare-reform law, critics challenged many aspects of the existing program. On the one hand, many thought that a new welfare-to-work system would merely push welfare recipients deeper into poverty because former recipients would gain employment in low-wage service-sector jobs. On the other hand, many felt that the old entitlement system did not reward hard work and that it discouraged the formation and stability of two-parent families. Others charged that the program actually harmed recipients by creating "welfare dependency." Welfare dependency refers to individuals' spending a good part of their potential working lives on welfare and passing welfare dependency from one generation to another. Tied to the issue of welfare dependency was a growing belief that the living patterns of many of the poor supposedly contributed to their condition.