Key Researchers


Overview of Substance Abuse & Welfare Reform


Lisa Metsch, Ph.D., University of Miami School of Medicine and Harold Pollack, Ph.D., University of Chicago

Review Panel: Sheldon Danziger, Ph.D., University of Michigan, Peter Reuter, Ph.D., University of Maryland, Laura Schmidt, Ph.D., University of California at San Francisco
Introduction: The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) changed the nature, purpose, and financing of public aid. PRWORA ended a 60-year-old federal entitlement, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), replacing it with the transitional program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) (Weaver, 2000). The goals and implementation of TANF are now being re-explored.

PRWORA brought many uncertainties about its potential impact on low-income mothers who misuse alcohol, prescription medication, or illicit drugs. At welfare reform’s passage, the prevalence of substance use disorders among recipients was largely unknown. Many advocates, administrators, and researchers feared that substance use disorders were widespread and that such disorders would prevent many recipients from complying with TANF requirements. As described below, our own research and that of others established that such disorders are less common among TANF recipients than initially was feared. Nonetheless, more than a decade after PRWORA’s passage, the identification, assessment, and treatment of recipients with these disorders continue to raise policy challenges.

Date Updated : Jun. 2009
Original Date: Jul. 2007

Metsch, L., and Pollack, H.; Substance Abuse and Welfare Reform Knowledge Asset, Web site created by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Substance Abuse Policy Research Program; June 2009.,

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