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This brief examines how often clients leave and return to welfare, which welfare leavers are the most likely to return, and the role of transitional supports in limiting returns. Drawing primarily on data from the National Survey of America’s Families (NSAF), the analysis examines families that left welfare for at least one month in the 1997–99 period and were back on welfare at the time of the 1999 survey.

The results show that, on average, more than a fifth of families leaving welfare returned. Many of these returning recipients had originally left assistance for work. Former recipients with little education, limited work experience, and poor health were particularly at risk of needing welfare again. Notably, families that used transitional support services—such as child care, health insurance, and help with expenses— were less likely to return. Unfortunately, relatively few families took advantage of these transitional services.

The high rates of movement on and off welfare suggest that many TANF leavers need greater help once they stop receiving benefits. One approach is for welfare offices to broaden their client base to include individuals who have recently left welfare, especially those with characteristics associated with higher return rates. Some states and localities are already taking steps to follow sanctioned returners’ progress and to offer job retention and advancement services to working former recipients. (Author)
The Urban Institute (UI)
Washington, D.C.
The Urban Institute
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