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Abstract

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) shifted responsibility for public assistance from the federal government to the states. This study examined early impacts of this devolution and related program reductions on local service authorities in Illinois. Based on surveys from 101 large townships responsible for administering General Assistance, medical assistance, and emergency needs programs, we found that 60 percent of these localities experienced increased service demands. These demands not only placed pressure on limited local programming funds, but also transformed local service populations in subtle and unintended ways. Reports of bureaucratic mistreatment and confusion also were common as states implemented PRWORA changes. Local responses to increased service demands were variable, with many localities increasing expenditures but expressing reservations about longer term funding given local tax limits. Follow-up surveys with 40 township officials two years later found that a declining economy and impending Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) five-year time limits were intensifying township program concerns. The implications of these findings for the development and monitoring of state and local public assistance systems are discussed.

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