May 28, 1998
Vol. 17, No. 17

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    Welfare reform: How will new law be put into practice?

    How will caseworkers bring the new welfare reform law into practice? Evelyn Brodkin, Associate Professor in the School of Social Service Administration and lecturer in the Law School, intends to find out.

    In a study funded by the National Science Foundation, Brodkin will look at the status of welfare recipients as they become subject to the work requirements of the new welfare law created with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Her research will focus on implementation of the law in areas of concentrated urban poverty in Chicago.

    "We will investigate how a major urban bureaucracy copes with the law's requirements for moving large numbers of recipients into work," Brodkin said. "The study will give us insights into the organizational challenges of implementing the law's work provisions. It will identify substantive issues that emerge in the interpretation of legal meaning and will follow the processes through which welfare law is incorporated into routine bureaucratic practice."

    The project builds on Brodkin's prior studies of welfare policy and of the politics of administrative practice.

    The rights of welfare recipients were dramatically changed in August 1996 when Congress abolished the Aid to Families of Dependent Children program. The new law alters the legal status of poor families, ending the federal guarantee of cash assistance and shifting welfare's fundamental purpose from providing income to that of moving welfare recipients into the work force.

    Yet the new TANF law leaves much to interpretation. The formal provisions of the law do not fully define welfare rights or settle rights questions. This will occur as law is translated into action. Brodkin's research will examine how the law develops into practice and explain how bureaucratic processes shape what the law will mean. In addition, this study takes the first step in the development of a broader, collaborative research project with Susan Lambert, Associate Professor in SSA, on the changing meaning of work and welfare in everyday life, in particular for former welfare recipients.

    Brodkin's study is expected to be completed in 2001.