Your State on Welfare

Hear the stories on ‘The Uncertain Hour’ podcast

In the two decades since welfare reform, the number of poor families receiving cash welfare has plummeted by more than half. In 2016, just 23 out of every 100 poor families received cash welfare. Compare that to 1996, when 68 of every 100 poor families received cash welfare. So how do states spend their welfare dollars? This is your state on welfare:

In the summer of 1996, Congress passed sweeping changes to the cash welfare program, which President Bill Clinton signed into law. The program had been in place for 61 years and had a simple structure: If you were poor and had children, you were guaranteed a welfare check. The new program, called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), operated differently. The federal government set a flat amount to distribute to states each year from a $16.5 billion allotment. It became a block grant. States had great flexibility in how to spend their portion, with an emphasis on getting families off welfare and into jobs. It also created restrictions and requirements on the distribution of cash welfare. The law had four aims: support families with cash welfare, like the old program; get welfare recipients into jobs; reduce out-of-wedlock pregnancy; and encourage marriage.

The number of families receiving cash aid nationally has been significantly reduced since welfare reform, despite the fact that there has been an increase in the number of families in poverty. Unlike the old welfare system, TANF is state-run, and each state has spending discretion on a variety of welfare-related activities, as long as they fall under a set of federal guidelines. For example, Kentucky spent 92 percent of its TANF dollars on the central goals of welfare reform: cash assistance, promoting work, and providing child care in 2016. Texas, on the other hand, only spent 16.2 percent on these core goals of welfare reform.

Did You Know?

In 1997, right after the introduction of TANF, about 80% of all TANF funding went to the core categories of basic assistance, work-related activities and child care. In 2016, only about 52% of all TANF funding went to core-related activities.




Marketplace Wealth & Poverty Desk

The Wealth & Poverty Desk is an award-winning coverage team from American Public Media’s Marketplace, the most widely heard program on business and the economy in the nation. Millions of listeners value Marketplace for its innovative journalism and interesting voices that make sense of the news in a way that’s relatable and accessible.

The Wealth & Poverty team is known for digging deep into our economic enigmas and unpacking the things we take for granted as inevitable. “Your State on Welfare” developed from reporting conducted for its podcast, The Uncertain Hour, with season one shedding light on welfare as we don’t know it. The team previously produced the “Secret Life of a Food Stamp,” exposing the hidden role food stamps play in the business models of Walmart and other low-wage retailers, and “York and Fig,” an experiential series from a pop-up bureau in Los Angeles’s Highland Park, revealing the mechanisms behind gentrification. The desk’s work has been nominated for a Loeb Award for Business Journalism and a James Beard Award for Food Journalism. It is supported by the Ford Foundation.

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The Uncertain Hour is an immersive “docu-pod” that reveals the uncertainties of our economy today: who deserves what and why? Host Krissy Clark dives deep into one topic each season, unpacking the things we take for granted as inevitable in our economy. Brought to you by the Marketplace Wealth & Poverty Desk, the first season asks: 20 years after we “ended welfare as we know it” in the U.S., what is welfare today? Because sometimes the things we fight the most about are the things we know the least about. It’s welfare as we don’t know it, with new episodes every other week throughout the season. The Uncertain Hour is supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Listen now on our website or your favorite podcast app. Follow us on Twitter @MPWealthPoverty

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Meet the Team

Krissy Clark, Host

Krissy Clark is the award-winning senior correspondent for Marketplace’s Wealth & Poverty Desk, where she brings her infectious curiosity, playfulness and empathy to help make sense of some of the most fundamental shifts happening in the U.S. economy today, including the widening gap between rich and poor and what it means for economic mobility and the American Dream.

Krissy is a 2016 Gracie Award winner. She was a finalist for a James Beard Award and a Loeb Award in 2015. Her stories and documentaries have won honors from Scripps-Howard, PRNDI, NFCB, an Investigative Reporters and Editors Medal of Honor, and First Prize in Investigative Reporting from the National Awards for Education Reporting. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Journalists Under 35, and a Third Coast Award for Best News Feature.

Krissy is a frequent public speaker and has appeared before audiences at Google, Stanford University, Fusion TV, Web 2.0, the Conference on World Affairs, and the Aspen Institute. She is the founder of, a location-based storytelling project whose audio installations have been exhibited by The New Museum in New York and San Francisco’s Gray Area Foundation for the Arts.

Nancy Farghalli, Senior Editor

Nancy Farghalli is the senior editor of Marketplace’s Wealth & Poverty Desk. In this position, she works with a reporting team to cover social mobility, wealth disparity, and the economics of mobility. 

Nancy has had several roles throughout her time at Marketplace, including senior producer. She led production of live events, such as Marketplace’s 25th anniversary road show tour. She also collaborated with the BBC, The New York Times, and ProPublica on joint investigative and immersive series, focused on health care economics, immigration, and wage politics. Nancy played a critical role in special coverage streams—including the presidential election in 2012, the Middle East and the Arab Spring.

Nancy worked on the Emmy award-winning series Big Sky, Big Money, a PBS FRONTLINE documentary about money in politics, produced in partnership with Marketplace. She is also a past recipient of a McCloy Fellowship in Journalism for the study of immigration economics and politics in Europe.

Caitlin Esch, Producer

Caitlin Esch is the producer for Marketplace’s Wealth & Poverty Desk. She produced the York & Fig series, zooming in on one gentrifying neighborhood in Los Angeles. Her work has taken her to rural South Carolina, New Orleans, Oklahoma, Baltimore and many stops in between, where she reports and produces stories of economic mobility and inequality.

She joined Marketplace in 2014. Her stories have aired on NPR News, NPR’s weekend All Things Considered, KQED News, The California Report, KCRW, KPCC’s Take Two and Philosophy Talk.

Caitlin has a master’s degree in journalism from U.C. Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree in English from The George Washington University. She lives in Los Angeles.

Gina Delvac, Associate Producer

Gina Delvac is the associate producer of Marketplace’s The Uncertain Hour podcast, where she tracks down sources, including Season one’s “Magic Bureaucrat,” Larry Townsend.

From 2011 to 2015, her work could frequently be heard on Marketplace with Kai Ryssdal where she produced interviews with philanthropist Eli Broad, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, and Grammy-winning music producer Diplo. She has also produced stories about the inventor of the emoticon, the future of workplace chat company Slack, and the delicate art of the promposal.

Gina has a bachelor’s degree in Comparative Literature from Haverford College. In her spare time, she produces the podcast, Call Your Girlfriend, from her home in Los Angeles.

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