When Policy Collides With Reality

IT WAS SUPPOSED TO break the cycle for welfare moms: no extra money for extra kids. Called a family cap, the rule is a conservative article of faith, and in 19 states, from California to the Carolinas, it's a centerpiece of welfare reform. It sounds like a sensible way to discourage out-of-wed- lock births--but so far there's no evidence it works.

Policy is colliding with reality in the lives of people like Jane, whose baby is due any day now. The 18-year-old New Bedford, Mass., woman is on welfare--and she already has two toddlers at home. Since the state's family-cap rule took effect last fall, mothers like Jane (not her real name) no longer get an extra $90 a month for each new child. That didn't stop her from getting pregnant--and she has no idea how she will support the baby. ""They are not doing a financial calculation when they're about to have sex,'' says Rebecca Maynard of the University of Pennsylvania. In New Jersey, which has had a cap since 1993, welfare births are in line with the general population's.

One worry was that caps would encourage abortion. That hasn't happened, either. In Massachusetts, the most dramatic change is in the bottom line: the cap has saved more than $1 million. ""Our philosophy is that the policy is working because the taxpayers are no longer paying for these babies,'' says Judy Rader, a state official. Harder to calculate is the cost to the 1,675 babies sliced from the rolls.

When Policy Collides With Reality | News