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KNOXVILLE — Tennessee’s Families First welfare reform program continues to help state welfare recipients get jobs and rely less on state assistance, a University of Tennessee study shows.

UT’s Center for Business and Economic Research analyzed state welfare figures from 2000, the latest year of complete data. The study found that Tennessee’s welfare caseload dropped 6.2 percent to 51,347 from 1997 to 2000.

The state’s previous welfare program — the now defunct Aid to Families with Dependent Children — had 96,000 recipients before being replaced in 1996 by Families First.

“Movement from the AFDC program to Families First and continued improvement in the Tennessee economy were the primary reasons for the large decline in the state’s welfare caseload,” Dr. Bill Fox, UT economist and center director, said.

“The number of cases has risen to about 60,000 in recent months, due in part to the slowing economy, but Families First has helped reduce the welfare caseload and directed assistance to those families who need it most.”

Fox said another positive finding of the study was the decreased likelihood of second or third generation welfare recipients.

Nearly 29 percent of adult caretakers in 2000 reported having been on assistance as children compared to 33.6 percent in 1997, the study found. The number of third generation recipients dropped from 13.1 percent in 1997 to 8.5 percent in 2000.

“A major goal of Families First is to help people who may have gotten into the welfare cycle as young children move to a point where they can be a productive part of the society and the economy,” Fox said. “This type of progress is exactly the intent of the program.”

Families First is a temporary cash assistance program which emphasizes work, job training and education. Participants are eligible for help with childcare, transportation and making the transition back into the workforce.

The UT study also found:
— The average number of months that a recipient received assistance declined from 33 months in 1997 to 27.2 months in 2000.
— The percentage of eligible adults with some work history rose to nearly 94 percent in 2000, up about 3 percent from 1997. Those currently employed rose from 32.8 percent in 1997 to 39.4 percent in 2000.