Approaches to Evaluating Welfare Reform: Lessons from Five State Demonstrations. a. Timing of Random Assignment for Recipients


Only Minnesota's evaluation performed random assignment of recipients at the time of redetermination; the other evaluations assigned recipients to experimental and control groups at a single point in time. The latter approach has the disadvantage that it introduces a potential lag between random assignment and a case becoming aware of its experimental or control status. When recipients are all assigned at once, their first knowledge of their experimental or control status will probably be by letter, with an in-person explanation being perhaps weeks or months away. In contrast, random assignment at the time of redetermination allows recipients to be told in person about the policies to which they are subject and to be reminded that other cases in the same region may be subject to a different set of policies. For example, in Minnesota, group orientation sessions were held for recipients who had just gone through random assignment to explain the policies to which they were subject.

Because it is desirable that cases be informed of their experimental or control status immediately following random assignment, we recommend that states consider the option of performing random assignment of recipients at the time of redetermination. However, states should be aware that if they perform random assignment at redetermination, the sample of recipients will necessarily exclude cases that leave welfare between the time of implementation of welfare reform and their next time of redetermination.

If recipients are assigned to experimental or control groups over time, rather than all at once, the implementation of welfare reform in the research sites will necessarily be gradual. The gradual phasing in of welfare reform in the research sites may conflict with a state's desire for a dramatic implementation of welfare reform throughout the state. If a state prefers to implement welfare reform policies all at once in the research sites, then it would be helpful if the state informs recipients in advance that they may be assigned to one of two welfare programs--the welfare reform program or the preexisting welfare program. Recipients should not assume that they will necessarily be subject to welfare reform provisions. Upon going through random assignment, recipients would be notified of the particular policies that apply to them.