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Reveal: A Welfare Check Updated

Allison McCartney for Reveal

With Republicans in full control of the federal government, there’s a good chance welfare reform will be an issue they may take on.

In anticipation of that, it is worth taking another look at what’s worked and what hasn’t. This is an updated version of the original episode, which airing in July.

Twenty years ago, President Bill Clinton vowed to end welfare as we know it. And he did. One of the biggest changes to come out of the 1996 welfare reform law was that that the federal government handed over control of $16.5 billion to the states, in the form of block grants, to spend as they see fit.

Today, only a quarter of welfare dollars actually goes toward basic assistance – housing, transportation or essential household items.

On this hour of Reveal, we take a road trip with Marketplace’s new podcast “The Uncertain Hour” and find out the surprising ways different states use this money.

Reporter Krissy Clark’s first stop is Oklahoma, where until recently, welfare dollars paid for marriage and relationship classes – no matter the couples’ income levels.

This meant that the money didn’t go to help families in financial need. At the second stop in Clark’s cross-country trip, she finds welfare dollars going to scholarships for students at an expensive private college in Michigan. And in Indiana, she explores how the state uses welfare funds for clinics that steer women away from abortions.