Challenges of welfare reform

November 01, 1999

ANN ARBOR---Researchers at the University of Michigan will present a new study about a population whose needs have been overlooked by welfare reform: those with mental health problems and those who suffer from drug dependence.

The federal welfare reform act of 1996 imposes a lifetime five-year limit for federally funded cash aid, but the law also requires most welfare recipients to find work or participate in job training programs, or other work-related activities, within two years of receiving aid. But obtaining and maintaining work will be difficult for those who need drug intervention programs or medical treatment, say U-M researchers.

"Substance abuse and dependence, and mental health problems, are important barriers to economic self-sufficiency and the successful fulfillment of family roles. With treatment, recipients are more likely to become self-sufficient. Effective services are needed to address great and preventable anguish in an important part of the welfare population," said Harold Pollack, assistant professor at the U-M School of Public Health.

Pollack will present the results of this study on Nov. 9 at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in Chicago. The study is co-authored by Sheldon Danziger, U-M professor of social work and public policy and director of the Center for Poverty, Risk and Mental Health; Rukmalie Jayakody, assistant professor of human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University; and Diane Steffick, a U-M doctoral student in economics.

The study is based on data from the 1994-95 National Household Survey of Drug Abuse (NHSDA), an annual survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and the 1979-96 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor. The authors focused on a sample of 2,728 single mothers who are at least 18 years old, have at least one child and are required to work under welfare reform. The authors found that:

--Substance use and dependence are significant, but exaggerated problems among recipients of public aid.

NHSDA data indicates that 21 percent of welfare recipients have used at least one illegal drug during the prior year. Although 16 percent of recipients report some marijuana use during the year, only about one-tenth report use of any other illegal drugs. Researchers found that academic skill deficits were a greater barrier to self-sufficiency than substance use.

"Substance abuse is a marker for unobserved problems, such as depression or family stress. Harsh policies that move substance users from welfare are insufficient because substance use is only part of the underlying problem. Drug treatment should be one part of a set of services provided by welfare-to-work programs," Pollack said.

--Many welfare recipients suffer from depression and other mental health problems. NHSDA data indicates that 19 percent of welfare recipients met diagnostic criteria for either major depression, general anxiety disorders, agoraphobia or panic attack. The NLSY survey found that 40 percent of long-term recipients were at risk of depression.

--Many welfare recipients are expected to exceed mandated time limits for federally funded cash aid. Currently, states may exempt up to 20 percent of recipients from the five-year limit. In contrast, 38 percent of young NLSY mothers who received welfare exceeded the five-year limit. "The recent decline in welfare caseloads, though encouraging, do not imply that we will have similar success in helping long-term recipients who face greater obstacles to self-sufficiency," Pollack said.

These results suggest that policy-makers should proceed with caution in imposing sanctions against welfare recipients who may be casual users of illicit substances, he said.

This study is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health.

University of Michigan

Related Depression Articles from Brightsurf:

Children with social anxiety, maternal history of depression more likely to develop depression
Although researchers have known for decades that depression runs in families, new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York, suggests that children suffering from social anxiety may be at particular risk for depression in the future.

Depression and use of marijuana among US adults
This study examined the association of depression with cannabis use among US adults and the trends for this association from 2005 to 2016.

Maternal depression increases odds of depression in offspring, study shows
Depression in mothers during and after pregnancy increased the odds of depression in offspring during adolescence and adulthood by 70%.

Targeting depression: Researchers ID symptom-specific targets for treatment of depression
For the first time, physician-scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have identified two clusters of depressive symptoms that responded to two distinct neuroanatomical treatment targets in patients who underwent transcranial magnetic brain stimulation (TMS) for treatment of depression.

A biological mechanism for depression
Researchers report that in depressed individuals there are increased amounts of an unmodified structural protein, called tubulin, in lipid rafts compared with non-depressed individuals.

Depression in adults who are overweight or obese
In an analysis of primary care records of 519,513 UK adults who were overweight or obese between 2000-2016 and followed up until 2019, the incidence of new cases of depression was 92 per 10,000 people per year.

Why stress doesn't always cause depression
Rats susceptible to anhedonia, a core symptom of depression, possess more serotonin neurons after being exposed to chronic stress, but the effect can be reversed through amygdala activation, according to new research in JNeurosci.

Which comes first: Smartphone dependency or depression?
New research suggests a person's reliance on his or her smartphone predicts greater loneliness and depressive symptoms, as opposed to the other way around.

Depression breakthrough
Major depressive disorder -- referred to colloquially as the 'black dog' -- has been identified as a genetic cause for 20 distinct diseases, providing vital information to help detect and manage high rates of physical illnesses in people diagnosed with depression.

CPAP provides relief from depression
Researchers have found that continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can improve depression symptoms in patients suffering from cardiovascular diseases.

Read More: Depression News and Depression Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to