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JUNE 17, 2002
10:07 AM
CONTACT:  NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund
Bill Scher, 212-413-7554
Government Data Show Welfare Reform Failure
Substantial majority of families leaving welfare are still poor and eligible for benefits
NEW YORK - July 17 - Only a mere one-third of the drop in the welfare caseload can be attributed to families successfully earning their way off welfare and out of poverty, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data released last month.

While the number of families receiving welfare benefits shrunk by approximately 2.2 million between 1995 and 1999, there was a simultaneous 1.4 million increase in the number of impoverished families eligible for, yet not receiving, welfare benefits.

“This discredits all we have been told about welfare reform,” said Lisa Maatz, vice president of NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, “What’s been deemed a success is simply an inability to get assistance to those who desperately need it.”

The data reflect a massive decline in the participation rate -- the percentage of families who are eligible for welfare that actually receive benefits. Since welfare reform was enacted, the participation rate has plummeted from 84% in 1995 to 52% in 1999.

“Instead of praising welfare reform as a magic elixir for poverty,” said Maatz, “we need to find out how and why welfare reform has placed a new barrier between people in poverty and the help promised them by the government.”

Maatz suggested possible reasons why eligible families would not access the welfare program include confusing bureaucratic processes and less meaningful benefits.

The data was included in the annual report “Indicators of Welfare Dependence,” submitted to Congress June 3. The full report is available at <>.

For more than thirty years, NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund has used the power of the law to define and defend women’s rights. Working in Congress, the courts and the media, NOW Legal Defense acts strategically to secure equality for women across the country.

NOTE FOR REPORTERS & EDITORS: NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund is a separate organization from the National Organization for Women, and autonomous in its funding and functioning. The organization should be referred to as “NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund” or as “NOW Legal Defense” in a second reference. It is incorrect to refer to the organization as the National Organization for Women, as “NOW,” or as a department or subsidiary of NOW.

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