Aid to Dependent Children (ADC)

Mid- to late-twentieth-century government program that provided financial assistance to poor families with children.

Aid to Dependent Children (ADC), later known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), was a provision of the Social Security Act of 1935. Although the impulse to assist poor and orphaned children dates to after the Civil War, no formal federal government program aimed at alleviating poverty existed until President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Social Security Act called on states to develop plans to aid the poor, with the federal government matching up to one-third of these expenditures. The states had discretion to determine income eligibility and benefits levels, but they could not place a time limit on benefits or require recipients to work.

Originally intended to enable poor widows to care for their children, the program by the 1960s came to support mostly unmarried mothers. In fewer than 10 years, from 1961 to 1970, AFDC caseloads nearly tripled. Several Supreme Court cases decided in the late 1960s and early 1970s weakened state restrictions that had blocked some from receiving benefits, resulting in a further expansion in AFDC caseloads. Lower courts built on these precedents to expand the concept that citizens were entitled to receive welfare benefits, placing the burden on government to justify eligibility restrictions.

AFDC became the primary method of providing cash assistance to the poor for more than 60 years, and the term became synonymous with welfare. Critics of AFDC claimed that the absence of work requirements and time limits on benefits established a precedent for relief that fostered a culture of dependency. These concerns prompted several attempts at reform in the 1960s and 1970s, including President Richard Nixon’s Family Assistance Plan and President Jimmy Carter’s Program for Better Jobs and Income, but neither proposal passed Congress.

Passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) eliminated the open-ended federal entitlement of AFDC by establishing time limits on benefits and by requiring recipients to work or participate in job training. Under the PRWORA, the federal government provided block grants to the states for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Opponents of AFDC hailed the new measures and celebrated the precipitous decline in welfare caseloads in the late 1990s, while critics of the reforms of 1996 warned of rising poverty in poor economic times.

Next post:

Previous post: