Moving People from Welfare to Work. Lessons from the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies.. Case Management: Do different strategies yield different results?


As mentioned in the description of the NEWWS programs operated in Columbus, there are two general approaches to welfare case management: traditional and integrated. Although each can be argued to have advantages and disadvantages, some policymakers and program operators have speculated that integrating the roles of income maintenance and employment and training might be advantageous under TANF, most importantly for its potential to change the "welfare culture" from one that emphasizes sending out checks to one that stresses employment and job preparation. In addition, some have argued that integrated case management leads welfare recipients to seek jobs or get into job preparation activities more quickly.

NEWWS provides a unique opportunity to capture the relative advantages and disadvantages of the two case management approaches in one site. Apart from the fact that one used traditional and the other integrated case management, the two welfare-to-work programs operated in Columbus were the same, and their enrollees were subject to the same public assistance eligibility and payment system. The results suggest the following lessons.

  • Integrated case management, when well funded and well run, offers advantages over the traditional approach.

Integrated case management can engage more people in program activities. As shown in Table 4, which presents many of the results discussed in this subsection, welfare-to-work activity participation rates were higher in the Columbus integrated program than in the traditional one. This result seems to be attributable to the fact that the integrated staff monitored participation more closely and followed up with participants who had attendance problems more quickly than did the traditional staff. It is also possible that people with integrated case managers took the threat of sanctions for noncompliance more seriously than did people working with traditional staff because the integrated staff could enforce the sanction themselves by reducing the grant. Interestingly, the integrated approach engaged more people in the program without actually imposing more sanctions.

Engaging more people in welfare-to-work program activities is valuable for a few reasons. Most obviously, it exposes more people to the program's services and messages. It also enforces the idea that people receiving welfare should, in return, take part in employment-focused services. Finally, under PRWORA, states must meet relatively high work participation requirements or face reductions in their TANF block grant; integrated case management may help them do so.

  • Relative to the traditional approach, integrated case management can foster more effective income maintenance, which in turn can reduce the time people spend receiving welfare and the total amount of welfare that they receive.

In Columbus, integrated staff closed cases more quickly than traditional staff and, through closer and more frequent contact with recipients, were better able to discover people who should not have been receiving welfare. Both programs reduced the number of months that recipients spent on welfare (relative to the control group level), but the impact of the integrated program was 1.4 months larger than that of the traditional one; similarly, whereas the five-year welfare savings generated by the integrated program were $1,523, those generated by the traditional program were $1,105.

In the current environment of time-limited welfare benefits, programs that reduce the time spent on welfare -- thus allowing people to "bank" more months of welfare eligi-bility for future use -- are particularly valuable. Moreover, decreasing welfare payments saves the government money.

  • Integrated case management can increase earnings more than the traditional approach.

The Columbus program with integrated case management increased five-year earnings (relative to the control group level) more than that with traditional case management, by $2,055 compared with $1,410. The difference between the earnings outcomes for the two approaches was not, however, statistically significant. Integrated case management worked especially well for nongraduates (and the difference in earnings outcomes for the two approaches was statistically significant for this subgroup). This result suggests that integrated management especially benefits more disadvantaged groups of people, perhaps because of the closer attention and monitoring it affords.

Both case management models in Columbus were operated as part of well-funded, well-run welfare-to-work programs. Staff had extensive administrative support, including a sophisticated case records information system, a child care referral unit, and a clerical unit that tracked recipients' attendance in program activities. In addition, program administrators placed a high priority on the employment services aspect of the programs; services were plentiful; and staff training was adequate. Even with these resources and supports, integrated case managers in Columbus found the job demanding (and caseloads were high, as shown in Table 4); without them, they might have found the work overwhelming, which in turn might have diminished the positive effects of the integrated approach.

Underscoring this point are findings from another NEWWS site -- Oklahoma City -- that used integrated case management but did not have the same funding, administrative, and management advantages as Columbus. (The two-year net cost per person of the Oklahoma City program was about $1,000, much lower than that of the two Columbus programs. In addition, its caseload was higher than that in Columbus's integrated program.) Oklahoma City's program did not increase five-year earnings. Considering these sites' results together, it is clear that integrated case management alone is not sufficient to produce the added benefits found in Columbus.

Table 4.
Comparison of Case Management Approaches:
When Well Funded and Well Run, Integrated Case Management
Offered Advantages over Traditional Case Management
  Integrated Traditional

SOURCES: Hamilton et al., 2001; Scrivener and Walter, 2001.

NOTE: Except for the participation and sanctioning rates and the net cost per person, which cover two years, all the results shown cover five years.

Average caseload size

140 265(income maintenance)
    258(employment and training)

Participation rate (%)

53 34

Sanctioning rate (%)

36 35

Earnings impact ($)

2,055*** 1,410*

Welfare payment impact ($)

-1,523*** -1,105***

Welfare receipt impact (months)

-3.9*** -2.5***

Net cost per person ($)

2,149 1,720
Return to government budget per dollar invested ($) 1.06 0.83