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Journal Issue: Welfare to Work Volume 7 Number 1 Spring 1997

Introduction to the AFDC Program
Stephen B. Page Mary B. Larner


The Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program was for 60 years the nation's most visible cash assistance program for the poor. As its name suggests, the program was created to aid children whose parents could not financially support them, and about two-thirds of AFDC recipients were children. In August 1996, Congress passed welfare reform legislation abolishing AFDC in favor of a Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant that passes funds for cash assistance to the states to use in welfare programs they design themselves. Even though AFDC no longer formally exists, most of what is known about U.S. welfare policy and its effects on families and children has been learned by studying that program and efforts to modify it. The following pages explain what AFDC was intended to accomplish and examine data about the program's recipients, caseloads, and costs that challenge many widely held impressions. The article also outlines the structure of shared federal and state responsibility for AFDC and highlights the major changes to the nation's approach to cash assistance that the 1996 welfare reform legislation introduced.