June 2001 // Volume 39 // Number 3 // Commentary // 3COM1

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Welfare Reform 4 Years Later: The Mobilization of the Land-Grant System

Welfare reform occurred during an era of economic prosperity. In question in 2001 is the ability of the economy to sustain its robust nature and maintain jobs for people at entry levels. Thus, the stage is set for continued engagement of the land-grant system, with Extension at the forefront, in welfare reform. This article describes what the land-grant system is doing to address the policy issue of welfare reform and to capture and report the system's accomplishments. The article challenges us to renew our commitment to one of this nation's most compelling issues.

Bonnie Braun
Extension Family Life Specialist
Department of Family Studies
University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland
Internet Address: BB157@umail.umd.edu

Linda Kay Benning
Assistant Director, Extension and Outreach, NASULGC
Washington, D.C.
Internet Address: Lbenning@nasulgc.org

A l999 National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) Kellogg Commission report urged the land-grant system to engage faculty and students, and local people in addressing this nation's compelling challenges. One such challenge is that of welfare reform.

Welfare Reform–The Challenge

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of l996 (PROWORA) ended Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and began Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Emphasis shifted from entitlement to work and workforce preparation. Federal time limits for cash assistance were set at 5 years; some states set less. Block grants of funds were moved from federal to state and local direction. A new era in family public assistance began.

Welfare reform provided the opportunity to demonstrate a scholarship of engagement with discovery and application of knowledge through research, instruction, and outreach (Braun & Bauer, l998). The legislation, emphasizing the local nature of reform, provided conditions conducive to Extension, research, and instructional programming.

Welfare Reform–The Response

Mobilization of the land-grant system to address welfare reform represents this system at its best–extending expertise of campus and county faculties to the people. The work deserves recognition.

Response Launch

Following the work of the NASULGC Board of Human Sciences, which included legislative initiatives during congressional deliberations, a l997 spring conference, "Meeting the Challenge of Welfare Reform: Research, Education and Extension" was held. At the conference, 224 people from 45 states representing 67 educational institutions, 11 agencies, and 11 associations participated.

The conference produced:

  1. Expanded understanding of related issues.
  2. Commitment to advance the emerging agendas.
  3. Connections with key, or potential, partners.
  4. A framework for response of the land-grant system.
  5. A set of strategies for research, extension/outreach, education/capacity building, and public policy with impact indicators and evaluation at the national, state, and local levels.

Conferees were challenged to achieve for this nation, in the arena of human well-being in the 21st century, what we achieved in the agriculture arena in the 20th century.

Research Response

Faculty began or expanded related research. A 15-state, longitudinal study, with support of the Agricultural Experiment Station Directors, began monitoring impacts of changes on the well-being of rural, low income families. The Southern region followed with a study assessing impacts in seven states. Other researchers worked alone or with students and colleagues.

Extension Response

Cooperative Extension responded with its usual educational programming diversity. Many state and county faculty leveraged TANF dollars to support their programming.

  • County and state faculties began or expanded programming in partnership with departments of human services, health, and economic development.
  • Public policy education was conducted to inform local leaders and citizens of options to respond knowledgeably to federal changes.
  • Some educators introduced mentoring programs to support families moving into the work world.
  • New curricula were created; existing were curricula adapted.
  • The Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program expanded across the nation to meet the needs of people eligible for, or receiving, food stamps.
  • Some taught the use of Earned Income Tax Credits to extend expendable income.
  • Others addressed Individual Development Accounts as a means of asset building.

Instructional Response

In credit classes, faculty, with the support of deans and department heads, incorporated study of welfare reform. Countless undergraduate and graduate students became aware of and knowledgeable about this significant policy change and the effects on people living in poverty. Some students engaged in service learning and/or internship projects. Continuing education courses were conducted to build the skills of non-profit and human service workers. Some faculty consulted with human service agencies. Others worked with the media to focus attention on the lives of low-income people and the challenges they face.


NASULGC urged members–presidents, provosts, Extension directors and others–to involve their institutions. A coalition of higher education associations formed to focus attention on the need for post-secondary education among individuals moving off welfare to increase earning capacity and quality of life. The USDA Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service (CSREES), through CYFERNET, posted information on the Web and participated in conferences and committees. In l997, the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) established the Workforce Preparedness Initiative.

Leveraging Extension Funding

In 2000, ECOP challenged the Employability Task Force of the Program Resources Ad Hoc Committee to develop strategies to position the land-grant system as a continued player in ongoing welfare/workforce education activities. As part of the work, the task force conducted a survey of states in the fall and winter of 2000-01 (Braun & Philogene, 2001). They identified Extension programming conducted with TANF funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Survey Findings

Nineteen states reported obtaining $24,407,456 in TANF funds for a reported 30,292 learners (23,554 adults; 6,738 youths). These funds supported programming to increase the personal responsibility and economic self-sufficiency of people moving off public assistance. This programming is consistent with the USDA-CSREES goal of "Economic Opportunity and Quality of Life for Individuals and Families," and builds on a history of extensive education for people with low incomes.

Extension faculty reported using the funds to develop scientifically researched curricula and methodologies to teach life skills. These skills enable participants to obtain and manage an income and to balance family and work demands.

Program goals and objectives included:

  • Preparing welfare recipients to work with employment and networking skills (e.g., transportation, training, certification, interviewing, continuing education);
  • Developing family life skills (e.g., food, nutrition and health, financial management, parenting and child development);
  • Building self-enhancement skills (e.g., time management, problem solving, sanitation).

Programming produced increases in:

  • Number of adults and youths trained in school-age child care, food services, horticulture, and respite care.
  • Extended periods of employment among participants.
  • Knowledge and skills of financial management, food and nutrition, and parenting.

Juvenile offenders redirected energies to skill building and learning. Other participants improved interviewing skills, self-perception and esteem, coping skills, and social networking skills. A number of participants sought further education through hands-on training programs, newsletters, and publications.

States reporting by region include:

Northeast: CT, MD, NH
North Central: IA, MO, NE, OH, WI
Southern: AR, FL, GA, OK, TX, VA
West: AZ, CA, NM, NV, WY

Use of Survey Findings

A complete report, with names, addresses, programs, targeted learners, goals, and outcomes was sent to Extension directors and administrators, and state program leaders for Family Consumer Sciences and 4-H in June 2001. The task force wants the report to stimulate ideas and exchange.

Just as important, NASULGC staff and the ECOP Legislative Committee will use the findings during upcoming reauthorization and annual budget discussions. They will cite these findings to support the case that Extension has the capacity to leverage its funds to attract additional funding and deliver programming that both makes a difference in the lives of people and contributes to the economy. Survey summaries are posted at http://www.nasulgc.org.

Reauthorization Opportunity

While the land-grant system accomplishments are impressive, work must continue. The federal experiment continues. It is a work in progress. Caseloads are falling. Food stamp usage is declining well below numbers who are eligible. Demand for child care and health care insurance exceeds supply. Numbers of working poor are rising, but self-sufficient incomes are not yet reality.

Welfare reform occurred during an era of economic prosperity. In question in 2001 is the ability of the economy to sustain its robust nature and maintain jobs for people at entry levels. Thus, the stage is set for continued engagement of the land-grant system in welfare reform–especially as it evolves to addressing needs of the working poor.

With PRWORA and the Farm Bill (which includes funding for food stamps) up for reauthorization in 2002, efforts are under way to modify the legislation. Numerous conferences and briefings are occurring in the nation's capital. There, academics, representatives of agencies and associations, and elected and appointed officials gather to exchange findings from research, raise questions, and identify issues to be addressed. Following discussion and debate, Congress will decide what the next 5 years of public assistance will be like for the people of this nation.

It's time again for the land-grant system, with Extension at the forefront, to reengage in policy issues leadership. It's time to inform decision makers of our accomplishments. It's time to renew our commitment to addressing this compelling issue of our time.

Employability Task Force Members

Barth, Judith; Benning, Linda Kay; Braun, Bonnie: Brooks, Henry M; Crosby, Greg Peterson, William L.; Schuchardt, Jane; and Stout, Jane Ann (Chair).


Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities. (1999). Returning to our roots: The engaged institution. Washington, D.C.: National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.

Braun, B. & Bauer, J. (1998). Welfare reform: An opportunity to engage universities in community and economic development. Journal of Public Service and Outreach, 3, 33-37.

Braun, B. & Philogene, M. (2001). Employability Task Force Welfare to Work Survey. Washington, D.C.: National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.

Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities (l999) Returning to our roots: The engaged institution. Washington, D.C.: National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.