States with family cap public assistance policies deny or reduce additional welfare benefits to mothers who conceive and give birth to additional children while they are receiving aid. By 1999, 22 states had family cap policies in place. Little is known about the incidence of conceptions leading to births among women on welfare or the effect of family cap policies on the likelihood of such events. This paper reports estimates of the number and cost implications of infants conceived by mothers receiving assistance in California over the period 1988–1995. The estimates are constructed using a longitudinal analytic database derived from administrative records. The results indicate that such births are common, but their incidence is declining. In 1988 about 5.2 percent of the AFDC-FG (mostly single-parent) California cases experienced a birth of a child conceived while the case was open; by 1995 this had declined to 4.8 percent. Over the same interval this aggregate rate fell from 8.0 to 6.7 percent for (two-parent) families in AFDC-UP. Although the one-year number of such births (62,000 in 1995) is small in comparison with total numbers of children in AFDC families, such children accumulate over time. Thirty percent of children under age 9 in California families receiving AFDC benefits in February 1996 were conceived while their cases were open; benefits paid on their behalf amounted to roughly 7 percent of total state outlays. The incidence of such births varies by race, but the downward trend is common. California actually implemented a family cap in 1997, but the state's plan is unusual in that adults can escape the consequences by leaving welfare for two months following the onset of pregnancy. Because administration of TANF in California has been radically decentralized, it is not clear whether counties are in fact applying the cap or, if so, whether parents are taking advantage of the two-month exemption.
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