A Cross-State Examination of Families Leaving Welfare: Findings from the ASPE-Funded Leavers Studies. Conclusion

08/01/2000

The eleven administrative data reports and four survey data reports reviewed in this paper provide important information about individuals and families leaving welfare. The studies consistently found that about three-fifths of former recipients were working; data from two states suggested that another fifth lived in a household where someone else is employed. Earnings levels were low, however, resulting in low household incomes and estimated poverty rates of close to 60 percent in two different states.

In most states, slightly over one-fourth (25 to 30 percent) of former recipients returned to cash assistance at least once over the first twelve months after exit. Usage of Medicaid was much less consistent across the states, with enrollment rates varying dramatically, from 25 to 75 percent of former recipients. Survey data indicate that significant percentages of leavers were uninsured and in some cases unable to afford needed medical attention. Leavers were somewhat less likely to participate in the Food Stamp program than in Medicaid, with between one third and two thirds of leavers receiving food stamps immediately after exit. Data from three states suggested that approximately one-fourth of former recipients experienced some degree of food shortages. Extreme food shortages, however, appeared quite rare (1 percent of leavers in one state, for example, reported that children in their household went a full day without food in the past six months), and less than 5 percent of recipients in three states reported turning to a homeless shelter. From the available data, it is not clear whether families who left welfare experienced greater or less material hardship than families who remained on welfare.

While the descriptive statistics summarized here provide an important overview of the well-being of individuals and families leaving welfare, they do not make full use of the rich administrative and survey data collected by states and counties under ASPE's welfare outcomes grants. Those interested in learning more about families leaving welfare can be directed to three additional sources of information. First, the individual state and county reports (see attached list of reports) cover a more comprehensive array of topics, and include more analyses of differences across subgroups, than can be covered in a synthesis paper of this length. Second, researchers at the Urban Institute have recently started writing a comprehensive synthesis of findings from ASPE-funded leavers studies; a short paper is expected this fall with the full report by next summer. Finally, ASPE is working collaboratively with the grantees and a technical assistance contractor (ORC Macro International), to make to make the grantees' welfare outcomes data files available to researchers for secondary analysis.(7) Through these various means, the rich and painstakingly collected data gathered with the support of the HHS Welfare Outcomes grants are being made available to researchers, policy-makers, program administrators and advocates to help inform future policy decisions and program implementation.

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