In 1996, Republicans in Congress reconfigured federal welfare assistance by making financial aid for the poor contingent on applicants finding jobs. Under the new welfare program they instituted, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), instead of cash going directly to poor families, states were given block grants of federal funds that could be used for anti-poverty programs. As recently as 2013, though, states had been using almost half of that funding for other areas of government that don’t necessarily assist poor families.
Meanwhile, the experiment of tying financial assistance to employment status has been a failure: The number of families served by TANF has decreased by 60 percent since it first launched 20 years ago, and not because more families are getting richer. Poverty, and deep poverty in particular, has only grown in the U.S.