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73 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 621 (1998)


With the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (Personal Responsibility Act), states have unprecedented discretion in fashioning their social welfare programs.

This Note examines the Personal Responsibility Act, focusing specifically on the statutory language and history of the sixty-month time limit on receipt of benefits and the two optional exceptions states may enact. This examination reveals that the Act contemplates that states have both the power and the support of Congress and the Department of Health and Human Services to implement exceptions for the benefit of survivors of domestic violence.

Given that states may choose to assist survivors of domestic violence by waiving time limits should states do so? Because domestic violence is particularly pervasive in the lives of welfare recipients, it is appropriate for states to prioritize allocations to survivors of such violence in defining available exceptions. Having concluded that states can and should implement exceptions to benefit survivors of domestic violence, this Note then explores how they should do so.

In this time of welfare reform, states must balance programs that transition benefit recipients into the workplace with programs that provide support for those who cannot yet become independent, such as those trapped in the cycle of domestic violence. The Personal Responsibility Act established a sixty-month cap on benefits on the view that time-limited welfare benefits will encourage self-sufficiency. This Note contends that, whatever the effect of such a cap generally, it will cause great harm to survivors of domestic violence because of their diminished capacity to enter the workforce successfully. It concludes that states can and should implement an exception to time limits and proposes that states create an exception regime characterized by the encouragement of applications, confidentiality guarantees to applicants, simple application procedures and low standards of proof, broad categories of admissible evidence, expedited decisionmaking, and availability of review.


Reprinted with permission of New York University Law Review.



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