An ideal evaluation would combine California's pre-program longitudinal data with Minnesota's baseline information form. Not all states have the resources to do this. However, the following steps toward collecting better baseline data should receive priority.
First, we recommend that states conducting random-assignment evaluations collect at least minimal baseline information at intake; DHHS could develop a prototype form to be adapted to each state's needs. The form should be brief and should focus on basic background information, identification information for all family members, and contact information. It should be filled out by the applicant or recipient jointly with a welfare agency staff member just before random assignment and eligibility determination. Use of a baseline form would require recipients to go through random assignment at redetermination (as recommended for other reasons in Chapter IV). If possible, the staff person responsible for these forms should be someone other than the eligibility worker, and obtaining good data on these forms should be designated as a key part of this person's job.
Second, we recommend that states maintain historical data on program participation and benefits in such a way that the data may be linked to create longitudinal files. If feasible, we recommend that states create the longitudinal files. This effort could be linked to the new requirements for lifetime limits on cash assistance, which will require states to move in this direction. When historical administrative data on outcomes are available, states should use these data in their welfare reform evaluations.