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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 cash assistance and eligibility for additional benefits that AFDC offered to poor families with children lifted few poor children out of poverty, yet the program did provide a guarantee of minimal income to those families who qualified for it. Public perceptions to the contrary, the program was used by a small fraction of the nation's population and constituted an even smaller proportion of federal and state budgets. Nevertheless, it fell into disfavor, and authority to design welfare programs was passed to the states.

How states will use this new authority will not be clear for some time. Some are likely to maintain innovative welfare-to-work programs they have already launched, while others may continue providing basic cash assistance as they did under AFDC. States also have the opportunity to seize on the relaxed federal mandates either to establish welfare policies with more stringent eligibility criteria and decreased benefit levels or to provide incentives and supports designed to promote family independence. Whatever direction they choose, as states reinvent their welfare programs, they will draw on the lessons that policymakers derive from 35 years of experience with the AFDC program and the welfare-to-work initiatives conducted under its umbrella.