Indicators of Welfare Dependence: Annual Report to Congress, 1997. Chapter IV. Data Needs


The Welfare Indicators Act of 1994 declared that its purpose was "to provide the public with generally accepted measures of welfare receipt so that it can track such receipt over time and determine whether progress is being made in reducing the rate at which and, to the extent feasible, the degree to which, families depend on income from welfare programs and the duration of welfare receipt." One of the tasks assigned to the Department of Health and Human Services in carrying out this requirement was to assess the data needed to report annually on welfare indicators and predictors and the ability of existing data collection efforts to provide such data. With the one exception noted below, whether existing data collection efforts would have been able to provide such data for the AFDC program was made a moot point by enactment of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.

Chapter I presented the Advisory Board's proposal for a definition of dependence which is used throughout this report. The proposed definition would include work required to obtain benefits under the category of work activities, and would consider recipients who work to obtain their benefits through either subsidized or unsubsidized work as less "dependent" than recipients who do not work at all. Unfortunately, current data does not permit making this distinction. With the increased emphasis on work under the PRWORA, it will become increasingly important to be able to identify the extent to which welfare benefits are associated with public or private sector work.

More generally, in creating the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grants, the PRWORA significantly changed the landscape against which the viability of existing data collection efforts is evaluated. The indicators of dependence and predictors or risk factors associated with welfare receipt that are presented in the previous chapters rely on national survey data collected primarily by government agencies and on administrative data collected and reported by state and local administering agencies (except for SSI program data, which is collected by the Social Security Administration). Although existing sources of data on the AFDC, Food Stamp and SSI programs are not without their limitations, the advent of the TANF block grant1 will make the existing data collection efforts that provide the data needed for the Department of Health and Human Services to report annually on the indicators and predictors more difficult and potentially less reliable.

1 Although titles II, IV and VIII of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act contain a number of major revisions to the Food Stamp and Supplemental Security Income programs (several of which are highlighted in Appendix A), those changes did not include modification of the funding structure to a block grant or changes in the data collection and reporting requirements.