Description and Assessment of State Approaches to Diversion Programs and Activities Under Welfare Reform. C. Study Methods

08/01/1998

The information presented in this report is based on telephone conversations with program administrators in 50 states and the District of Columbia. Information was collected using a flexible topical guide covering a broad range of areas of interest. An introductory letter with specific information about the project and a series of follow-up telephone calls were used to identify the appropriate state-level officials knowledgeable about the states' diversion programs and activities and to schedule a time to discuss the issues outlined in the topical guide. All respondents received a copy of the topical guide prior to the scheduled discussion. Conversations ranged from 45 to 90 minutes depending upon the range and intensity of the states' diversion programs and activities. Prior to talking with state administrators, project staff reviewed all approved Section1115 AFDC waivers and state TANF plans.

The topical guides were structured to collect information about a range of policies and program activities that are intended to divert TANF applicants. The three types of formal diversion programs/activities identified earlier were explored in the guides: lump sum payments, linkage with and/or exploration of alternative resources, and mandatory applicant job search. Information on other work-related conditions of TANF eligibility (such as attending an employment-oriented orientation) and other non-work related requirements, such as signing a personal responsibility agreement was also gathered. Additional issues that were discussed included: how links with Medicaid are being addressed, what kinds of data collection efforts regarding diversion programs are being undertaken, and whether the state had any indicators of the success of diversion programs and activities.

Within these broad topic areas, particular areas of inquiry focused on: 1) the goals of the state's diversion programs, 2) the specific provisions and requirements of the diversion programs, 3) the populations targeted for diversion, 4) the payback requirements and/or other trade-offs associated with receiving lump sum cash payments, 5) the length of time diversion programs have been in effect, 6) the kinds of supports for work and transitional benefits that are available for families who are diverted, 7) the mandatory or voluntary nature of the diversion programs, and 8) the specific procedures for encouraging and/or ensuring that diverted persons apply for Medicaid.

With respect to informal diversion activities, we anticipated that obtaining meaningful information about the operation of such activities during conversations with state officials would be difficult and the results speculative at best. Consequently, we did not include a discussion of this issue in our conversations. As noted above, however, although our ability to consider informal diversion activities at this point is limited, the phenomenon of informal diversion is probably an important factor in the changing circumstances of low-income families. The most appropriate sources of information about informal diversion are likely to be diverted TANF applicants and their families and friends. The case studies to be conducted in phase two of this study will thus provide the opportunity to examine this important issue more closely.