Historical Background

In 1996, Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), a bill aimed at substantially reconstructing the welfare system. It replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). The legislation was designed to place time limits on government assistance, and required participants to engage in welfare-to-work activities. The worst of the welfare-to-work activities necessary to qualify for a monthly grant is “workfare” – menial and degrading work like picking up trash in streets and parks. Cities and counties have used the “no wage” labor of welfare-to-work participants to replace family-supporting public sector jobs, and provide subsidies to for-profit businesses.