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

08/01/2000

As large numbers of recipients leave the welfare rolls, there is widespread interest in their circumstances: How are they faring without cash assistance? Are they working? Are they moving out of poverty? To what extent to do they return to welfare? To what extent do they continue to need and to receive assistance and supportive services through other programs?

In September 1998, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), Department of Health and Human Services, awarded approximately $2.9 million in grants to study the outcomes of welfare reform for individuals and families who leave the TANF program, or who apply for TANF but are not enrolled. The grants were awarded to ten states and three large counties or consortia of counties under a May 1998 competitive grant announcement. Somewhat comparable studies were funded in Wisconsin, through the Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP), and in South Carolina, resulting in a total of fifteen studies of former recipients funded by ASPE in FY 1998. In these studies, researchers are using a combination of linked administrative data sets and surveys of former recipients to monitor the economic status and general well-being of families leaving welfare. Most studies are reporting on outcomes for at least two cohorts of leavers, an early cohort that left welfare in 1996 or 1997, and a later cohort that left in 1998 or 1999, after the transition of welfare from the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. ASPE awarded an additional $2.6 million in welfare outcomes grants to states and large counties in FY 1999.

This paper presents preliminary outcomes for families leaving welfare, based on reports released by the HHS-funded studies as of July 2000. As of this date, eleven of the fifteen studies initiated in 1998 had released interim reports with administrative data findings for the early leavers and four of these eleven studies had also released final reports, which generally contain both administrative data and survey data findings for the later cohort of leavers.(1) An April 2000 ASPE staff paper summarized administrative data findings from the interim reports.(2) This paper draws heavily on the earlier summary, and like it, focuses on employment and earnings, returns to cash assistance, and program participation in Medicaid and food stamps. Findings from administrative data are supplemented with more detailed findings from the recently completed surveys of former recipients. In addition, the paper presents preliminary survey findings related to the household income and experiences of material hardship of former recipients, an important set of topics not measured in administrative data.

The survey data presented here are from only four states - Arizona, Illinois, Missouri, and Washington - and so may not reflect the experiences of welfare leavers more generally across the country. Additional HHS-funded grantees will be releasing final reports with survey data over the next twelve months, adding to our knowledge about the circumstances of families who have left cash welfare programs.

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