Substance Abuse and the Course of Welfare Dependency

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New provisions in welfare reform target recipients with addictions, even though there is limited research on how substance abuse affects people's experiences on welfare. This prospective study examined substance abuse as a determinant of subsequent welfare dependency.


Representative samples of clients on Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and general assistance in a California county were interviewed while applying for services in 1989 and were reinterviewed in 1995.


Among AFDC recipients, substance abuse was not a significant determinant of long welfare stays, repeat welfare use, or the total time a person remained on welfare during the 6-year period. However, substance abuse was a strong predictor of repeat welfare use among general assistance recipients.


Alcohol and drug problems have played dramatically different roles in welfare dependency within the AFDC and general assistance populations. Under welfare reform, local general assistance programs will be the final safety net for recipients removed from federal entitlement programs. These programs will probably be confronted with clients with more complex disabilities related to addiction, as well as with greater family needs for cash assistance. (Am J Public Health. 1998;88:1616-1622)

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