The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Documenting the Consequences of a State TANF Time Limit Law: Research Supporting Legislative Change

Sunday, January 19, 2014: 10:45 AM
Marriott Riverwalk, Alamo Ballroom Salon E, 2nd Floor Elevator Level BR (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Sandra S. Butler, PhD, Professor, University of Maine, Orono, ME
Background and Purpose

In 1996 welfare reform imposed a 60-month lifetime time limit on cash assistance through the TANF program but permitted states to use federal funds for up to 20% of a state’s caseload for families facing barriers to economic security; “maintenance of effort” state funds could also be used to extend benefits.  Prior to 2012, Maine’s policy for families reaching 60 months was to continue to provide TANF assistance if they were complying with program rules.  This practice changed in 2012 when state law imposed for the first time a 60-month lifetime time limit on receipt of TANF assistance.  Although families reaching 60 months on the TANF program represent a very small minority (13.6%) of all families receiving TANF in Maine, they are a group that face many barriers to economic independence.  In the first five months after the law was implemented, more than 1,500 families and 2,700 children lost benefits.  The Maine Time Limit Study was carried out in fall 2012 to assess the consequences of losing TANF benefits for these families.


In late summer 2012, a survey was disseminated to 29 agencies throughout the state that agreed to distribute it to families who had lost TANF benefits due to the 60-month time limit.  The survey was also sent to 105 individuals who had participated in a 2010 TANF survey and who would have reached their 60-month time limit if they had remained on TANF over the two subsequent years.  By the end of October, 54 completed surveys had been received forming the basis of the time-limit study.  In addition, eight survey respondents participated in telephone interviews that solicited more in-depth information about their situations.  Descriptive and bivariate statistics were performed on survey data and telephone interviews were analyzed for recurring themes.


Nearly two fifths of the sample reported a work-limiting disability and more than two-fifths had less than a high school education.  The median income for the sample was $260 per month; two-fifths reported no income.  Those with a high school diploma or more education were significantly (p < .05) more likely to be employed than those who had not completed high school.  Survey respondents reported severe hardships since losing their benefits including one-fifth losing their housing.  Themes from the in-depth interviews included agency roadblocks to receiving the mandated “hardship” extension, families breaking up with the loss of housing, and lack of job opportunities given the levels of disability and skills.

Conclusions and Implications

A report on the study’s findings was introduced in the 126th Maine State Legislature in March 2013 along with oral testimony to help defeat further efforts to balance the state budget by cutting programs for the poor and to support bills to ameliorate current harsh conditions, including one to improve assessments in the TANF program so barriers to employment can be addressed earlier and another which would establish an extension to the 60-month limit for people unable to find employment due to lack of education, cognitive impairment, or high unemployment.