Sharp declines in welfare rolls since the passage of welfare reform legislation have led many to label it a social policy success. Using data from prereform and postreform samples of welfare applicants and recipients, as well as ethnographic data on welfare reform implementation, we examine three hypotheses based on concerns raised during the welfare reform debate about the possible effects of new policies on substance abusers and addicts: First, they would be “scared off,” or discouraged from applying to aid by welfare's new requirements surrounding work and treatment. Second, they might be “weeded out,” or face discrimination in the application process because of concerns about the difficulty of moving them successfully from welfare to work. Third, they might be “bumped down,” or shifted to local aid programs rather than moving from welfare to self-sufficiency. Our empirical analysis finds no evidence of scaring off or weeding out, and some evidence of bumping down. Using ethnographic data, we offer some possible explanations for these findings by placing them in the context of policy change and implementation in the years following welfare reform.

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