Objectives. The welfare reform law of 1996 marked a historical moment in US
policy toward the poor by ending the entitlement to cash assistance, by re
quiring work, and by establishing time limits. This article examines the po
tential impact on the health of women and children, the primary recipients
of welfare benefits.
Methods. The authors outline the reproductive health outcomes most likely t
o be sensitive to welfare policies. identify indicators that might be used
to assess these outcomes, review empirical evidence, and suggest specific m
ethods and data sources.
Results. State welfare requirements could improve health outcomes or deter
families from Medicaid and food stamps, as well as income support, thus wor
sening health outcomes. National and state data may prove useful in detecti
ng these effects; however, new data sources may be required for specific he
Conclusions. Assessing the effects of welfare policies on reproductive and
infant health is possible, although challenging. Reauthorization of the leg
islation is required in 2002; it is essential that the consequences for hea
lth be included in the next round of public debate.