Welfare reform, TANF, implementation, Institutional Ethnography (IE), performance measures, participation rates, implementation success, PRWORA, Welfare-to-Work, ideological buy-in, New York State, Family Support Act


While research suggests that staff resistance to change and intentional subversion have hampered prior welfare reform efforts, this does not appear to be the case for the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). This paper draws on data from a study of East County, New York to explicate the mechanisms that have enabled the unprecedented transformation in local implementation practice in this case. Interviews, participant observation, and textual analysis of legislative and program documents identify new program creation, staff buy-in, and the environment created by stern performance measures as instrumental in bringing about the PRWORA's successful implementation of policy changes. Revealing workplace dynamics that mutually reinforce and compel attention to institutional interests, these findings suggest that further research is needed to examine how these implementation dynamics impact staff responsiveness to clients and clients' experiences.

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