AFDC/TANF receipt has declined as rapidly among low-income mothers who report recent substance use as among the broader population of low-income mothers.
During the 1996 welfare reform debate, many observers noted that low-income mothers with substance use disorders would be penalized by the new law. To the extent that substance use poses an employment barrier, PWRORA provisions that discourage employable recipients from joining or remaining on the TANF rolls would tend to increase the concentration of substance users among remaining recipients.
At the same time, substance users might be disproportionately affected by work requirements, sanctions, and lifetime time-limits designed to deter TANF receipt and to remove non-compliant recipients from the rolls. Substance users might also be disproportionately affected by stringent new regulations such as the Gramm Amendment, which imposed a lifetime ban on Food Stamps and TANF on many individuals convicted of drug-related felonies (PL104-193, 1996). Given these opposing pressures, advocates, researchers, and policymakers have been unsure whether PWRORA would increase or decrease the concentration of substance users among those receiving TANF aid.
Pollack and Reuter examined this question, again using NHSDA data. They show that welfare receipt declined faster among substance users than among other low-income women. Schmidt and colleagues find similar patterns (Schmidet et al., 2006). We replicated this analysis in NSDUH 2007 data, and obtained extremely similar results. Of low-income mothers who reported illicit drug use in the past year, 38.9 percent reported receiving public cash aid, and 34 percent of low-income mothers who satisfy screening criteria for substance use disorders are TANF recipients. In contrast, 29.4 percent of low-income mothers who reported no illicit drug use in the past year reported receiving public cash aid. Drug users were somewhat more likely than non-drug-users to report receiving TANF aid. However, less than 40 percent of low-income mothers who report recent drug use receive such assistance.