How Effective Are Different Welfare-to-Work Approaches? Five-Year Adult and Child Impacts for Eleven Programs. Program Changes in the Last Two Years of the Five-Year Follow-Up Period

12/01/2001

The previous section described the 11 programs as they existed during the first three years of the follow-up period. In the last two years of the five-year follow-up period, however, the focus of many of the programs changed. Most commonly, some of the education-focused programs became more employment-focused, a change driven in part by the 1996 welfare reform law.(27) This shift was not incompatible with what might normally happen in an education-focused program. It would have occurred several years after most program group members started their participation in education or training activities. Most education-focused welfare-to-work programs involve periodic job search, particularly once individuals have improved their skills or achieved a credential. Therefore, it is unlikely that the shift to an employment-focused program would have greatly compromised the nature of the treatment studied in these originally education-focused programs. In addition, the changes in program emphases would have affected only those program group members still receiving welfare in the last two years of the five-year follow-up period. As discussed in the next section, which covers changes in control group members' treatment over time, this proportion varied by site. The following paragraphs highlight the most important program changes.

In Atlanta, the site (and state) implemented a strongly job search-focused "work first" program in December 1996. For LFA sample members, the new program continued their employment-focused treatment. For HCD sample members, the new program represented a change in program message and emphasized activities. At the same time, Georgia began the count of months toward a welfare time limit (which would have affected sample members in all three of the Atlanta research groups).

In Grand Rapids, a Work First program was implemented during the five-year follow-up period as well, in October 1994, but referral to this program was delayed for most LFA and HCD sample members. For individuals assigned to the LFA and HCD research groups in roughly the first half of the Grand Rapids random assignment period, referrals to the Work First program could be made three years after random assignment if these sample members were still receiving welfare. Reviews of Work First program databases, however, indicated that as of May 1996, which would have been about the fourth year of the five-year NEWWS follow-up period for most of these sample members, less than 10 percent of this group had, in fact, been referred to the new program. Individuals assigned to the LFA and HCD research groups in roughly the second half of the Grand Rapids random assignment period continued to be part of the original LFA and HCD programs throughout the five-year follow-up period. Grand Rapids also took part in another statewide initiative, Project Zero, which sought to drastically reduce the number of nonworking adults on the welfare caseload, but implementation of this program did not occur until almost all NEWWS sample members were beyond the end of their five-year follow-up period.

In Riverside, the LFA program focus and components generally carried over into years 4 and 5 of the five-year follow-up period. The HCD program, however, had more of an employment focus in years 4 and 5. Once HCD sample members completed their education activities in the last two years, it is likely that they would have been assigned, if still on welfare, to job search. If they did not find a job through job search, it is unlikely that they would have been assigned to more basic education; rather, they probably would have been assigned to do more job search or to attend group self-esteem-building sessions. Assignments to vocational training remained rare for both LFA and HCD sample members in the last two years of follow-up, as it had in the first three years. (The CalWorks program in California was implemented at a point that would have been, for most Riverside sample members, after the end of the five-year follow-up period examined in this report; its provisions are thus largely not reflected in the behavior of sample members examined here.)

In Columbus, several program changes took place in October 1997. First, all sample members in both the Integrated and Traditional program groups began to receive integrated case management, reflecting a county-wide shift to this type of arrangement. Second, the program became much more employment-focused than education-focused. Third, Ohio began the count of months toward a welfare time limit (which would have affected sample members in all three Columbus research groups).

Reflecting the Michigan changes outlined above for the Grand Rapids site, the Detroit program was transformed in October 1994 to the strongly employment-focused Work First program, operated by an agency other than the welfare department. In this site, unlike Grand Rapids, it was not possible to implement procedures whereby program group members could continue to be eligible for their "original" program. As a result, sample members still on welfare in late 1994 would have experienced an abrupt change in program type and focus, from an almost voluntary program emphasizing education to a strongly mandatory one emphasizing employment.(28)

The Oklahoma City program also became more employment-focused in years 4 and 5 of the five-year follow-up period. In addition, in October 1996 Oklahoma began the count of months toward a welfare time limit (which would have affected both program and control group members in the site).

In Portland, program group members would have continued to receive an employment-focused treatment in the last two years of the five-year follow-up period. Several other program changes, however, occurred in these years. First, over the course of the five years, the program made more use of job search and less use of education. In the last year of follow-up, for example, program staff were urged to reduce the number of assignments to GED classes and, when made, to limit the assignments to only three to six months. In 1999, GED and other education programs were viewed more as activities that could help working individuals retain and advance in jobs than as activities for initial work preparation. Along with this, life skills activities were still offered, but were compressed to two weeks, from the five to six weeks observed in the first three years of the follow-up. Second, in the last two years of follow-up, staff made more short-term training assignments (of three to six months) and worksite placements (a type of "supportive" work experience). Finally, toward the end of the follow-up period, Portland started to move away from a type of integrated case management and toward traditional case management.