Approaches to Evaluating Welfare Reform: Lessons from Five State Demonstrations. 5. Wisconsin

10/01/1996

Wisconsin has implemented a number of welfare demonstration programs, authorized by distinct sets of waiver packages. Some of these demonstrations are operating statewide, while others have been implemented only in selected sites. Work Not Welfare (WNW), one of the latter type of demonstrations, has been operating in 2 of the state's 72 counties since January 1995. WNW is meant to radically alter the culture of welfare. Its intent is to affect the administration of welfare and how current and potential recipients and the community at large perceive it. The program seeks the active involvement of local businesses in creating jobs and of community organizations in supporting children and families. It imposes a two-year time limit on the receipt of cash assistance during any four-year period; however, exemptions to this requirement are granted. The program places a strong emphasis on encouraging applicants to enroll only in Food Stamps and Medicaid, thus avoiding the start of the two-year clock limiting the receipt of cash assistance. Those who receive cash grants must participate the requisite number of hours per week in employment or in approved education or training programs, or have their grants reduced in proportion to the shortfall in hours.

DHHS and the state of Wisconsin agreed that an experimental evaluation of WNW was inconsistent with the demonstration's emphasis on communitywide changes in the culture of welfare; it was feared that random assignment would dilute the cultural change sought. Consequently, Wisconsin received approval from the federal government for a quasi-experimental "matched comparison county" design for the WNW evaluation. Each of the two demonstration counties was matched with two comparison counties (for a total of four comparison counties) that have similar economic, demographic, and welfare caseload characteristics but in which WNW is not operating. Impacts on applications, enrollments, caseloads, and other outcomes will be estimated on the basis of aggregate time series data and case-level longitudinal data for the demonstration counties and matched comparison counties. MAXIMUS, a policy research firm, is conducting the WNW evaluation.