Since the passage of federal welfare reform legislation in 1996, welfare caseloads have declined dramatically assisted, in part, by a strong economy. However, many families have not made the transition to employment. Many recipients of Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) experience a variety of barriers that make it difficult for them to work. These barriers include poor work skills, low educational attainment, difficulty securing childcare and transportation, and health and mental health issues. As states face rising federal work participation rates and approaching time limits, there is an increasing need to find effective strategies to assist those who experience barriers to employment.
Substance abuse has been identified as an important problem to address among hard-to-employ TANF recipients. Although accurate prevalence rates of substance abuse problems among TANF recipients are hard to obtain, some studies indicate that 10-20% have a substance abuse problem. Many welfare systems have implemented special programs to screen for substance abuse and refer recipients to treatment. However, very little is known about TANF recipients who have a substance abuse problem. As a result, minimal information is available to guide policy makers and program administrators about the types of services this population needs to transition to employment.
The purpose of this study was to learn more about the substance abuse problems and other barriers to employment of women on TANF who were identified as being dependent on alcohol or other drugs. The study examined the nature, severity, course, and treatment needs for substance abuse problems in this population. The study also assessed problems in seven other areas thought to be barriers to employment. Because most women on TANF experience some barriers to employment, the study compared women with a substance abuse problem to those without a problem. This comparison allowed us to study and determine whether substance-abusing women were more impaired than other women on welfare across important domains related to employment. Finally, the study examined the well-being of children based on mother's self-report.