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

08/01/2000

Approximately one-fourth of former welfare recipients reported that they did not have enough to eat, or they cut meal sizes or skipped meals, in the period since leaving welfare, as shown in Table 8. Each of the three studies reporting these data attempted to compare the experience of leavers with the experience of welfare recipients. The most reliable comparison is in Washington, where a sample of ongoing recipients was asked the identical set of question as the sample of leavers, regarding experiences of food shortages over the last six months. The result was that leavers reported somewhat more experiences with food shortages than ongoing recipients; for example, 23 percent of leavers reported skipping a meal some time or often, compared with 18 percent of ongoing recipients, a 5 percentage point difference that is statistically significant. In Illinois and Arizona, where leavers were asked to compare the time period since exit with experiences in the six months prior to exit, t he comparison is hampered by challenges with respondent recall and observation periods of varying lengths. Still, these data suggest that food shortages were less common after exit than before exit in Arizona, and of the same frequency before and after exit in Illinois.

The Washington survey included some questions that probed at more severe signs of hunger among leaver households, including instances where children as well as adults were affected by food shortages. When asked how often both adults and children in the household skipped meals, 4 percent of leavers (and a similar percentage - 5 percent - of ongoing recipients) reported that this occurred some time or often in the last six months. In addition, 14 percent of Washington leavers reported that adults went without food all day at least once in the past six months. The comparable percentages were 9 percent for ongoing recipients, 1 percent for children of leavers and 2 percent for children of ongoing recipients.

Former recipients also reported problems with housing arrangements, although these were not as common as the overall food shortages reported above. The most common problems were loss of utilities (12 to 14 percent of former recipients across the three studies) and being forced to move (13 to 17 percent of former recipients according to two studies). Less often, former recipients were evicted (7 percent in Washington) or went to a homeless shelter (1 to 4 percent across the three studies). An estimated 8 percent of former recipients in Illinois and Arizona reported that their children were forced to live elsewhere, and 3 percent of leavers in Washington reported that their children went into foster care.

Comparisons between former and current recipients in Washington suggest that while both groups experienced similar levels of loss of utilities, former recipients were more likely than ongoing recipients to experience the more extreme conditions of being evicted or having no place to live more than once over a six-month period. The comparisons in Illinois and Arizona suggest the opposite, that is, that leavers experienced fewer housing problems after their exit from welfare than they had experienced while on welfare. Again, it is not clear if this reflects a true difference across states (perhaps tied to the adequacy of welfare benefits) or if the Illinois and Arizona surveys were less accurate in measuring hardships while families were receiving welfare. None of the states reported that separations of children from the family occurred more or less frequently after exit than while the family lived on welfare.

Finally, close to one-third (31 percent) of leavers in Illinois, and one-fourth (24 percent) in Arizona reported that since leaving welfare, either they or someone in their household was unable to get needed medical attention because they could not afford it. This may reflect the fact that 25-40 percent of respondents in these two states were uninsured. Somewhat smaller percentages of respondents (26 percent in Illinois and 14 percent in Arizona) reported an inability to get needed medical attention during the last six months of welfare receipt, a time period when almost all respondents all had health coverage through the Medicaid program.

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