This measure would report on the rate of nonmarital births that occur to TANF families and address the TANF goal of preventing and reducing the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies. This measure differs from the existing Bonus for Reduction in Out-of-Wedlock Births, which measures changes in nonmarital birth rates for all families in a state.
Measurement issues. The advantage of restricting a measure of nonmarital births to TANF recipients (rather than all families) is that TANF agencies have much more ability to affect the choices of TANF recipients, through financial incentives, life skills classes, parenting education, and referrals to family planning providers, than they do to affect the general population.
However, such a measure has the possibility of undesired consequences. There is already some controversy over the "family cap" policies that several states have already adopted, which deny additional benefits to families for children conceived while the family was receiving welfare. There would probably be greater concern if states included a requirement not to have additional children in a personal responsibility contract, and denied assistance entirely to recipients who fail to comply. Policy makers might wish to add to this measure restrictions to ensure that the desired goals were not achieved through unacceptable means; for example, the Bonus for Reduction in Out-of-Wedlock Births includes a requirement that states which receive the bonus must also have achieved a reduction in their abortion rate.
Another concern is that the composition of the denominator of the measure - the TANF caseload - will be constantly changing. For example, it is widely believed that as the welfare caseloads have declined, the most advantaged (job-ready) recipients have disproportionately left the rolls, leaving a higher proportion of more disadvantaged, harder to employ, families behind. It is possible that the least job-ready recipients may have a higher rate of nonmarital births than the more job-ready individuals who leave TANF more quickly. Thus, it may be difficult to distinguish whether a change in the nonmarital birth rate was due to a change in the number of out-of-wedlock births or a change in the composition of the TANF caseload.
Data issues. There are two potential data sources for calculating the out-of-wedlock birth rate for TANF families. The most accessible and timely data source is TANF state administrative records. As part of their aggregate data collection for TANF, states are required to report on a quarterly basis the monthly number of families receiving TANF with an out-of-wedlock birth. The quality of these data has not yet been assessed. The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) is another potential data source. States report data on all out-of-wedlock births in their state to NCHS on an annual basis. These data could be matched to TANF administrative records to determine the out-of-wedlock birth rate for TANF families. However, this type of match has not been done yet, so its feasibility and burden would have to be determined.
In addition, a few states do not directly ask the mother's marital status on the birth registration form, but instead infer it from other information collected (typically, whether the mother and father have the same last name). This reduces the comparability of data among states.
Fairness issues. This measure has not previously been calculated. However, it is known from the existing Bonus for Reduction in Out-of-Wedlock Births, that there is a great deal of variation across states in the percentage of all births which are out-of-wedlock. This variation appears to be related to the demographic characteristics of the state's population, rather than to specific state policies. It is likely that this variation will also occur among states with respect to nonmarital births in the TANF population, again for reasons other than state policy choices. This suggests that a measure of improvement (as used under the Bonus for Reduction in Out-of-Wedlock Births) would be more appropriate than a simple absolute rate. However, as discussed previously, improvement is generally more difficult to achieve for states which have already achieved a high level of performance (in this case, a low rate of nonmarital births).
4. Unlike TANF, Food Stamp income eligibility standards and benefit levels are set at the national level. Eligibility is based on the number of people in the household and the amount of income the household has; most households must have income at or below the Federal Poverty guidelines after deductions are allowed. Almost all types of income, including cash assistance, are counted to determine if a household is eligible. Food Stamp benefits are 100% federally funded.
5. Medicaid is a federal-state matching entitlement program. The federal matching rate is inversely related to a state's per capita income, and can range from 50 to 83 percent. Within federal guidelines (states are required to serve some population groups and are permitted to serve others), each state designs and administers its own program. Thus, there is substantial variation among states in coverage, types and scope of benefits offered, and amounts of payments for services. Applicants' income and assets must be within program financial standards - for some population groups these standards vary among states; for others, standards are set by federal law.
6. A separate provision of PRWORA requires the chief executive officer of each state to report annually on the child poverty rate in the state. If, as a result of PRWORA, the child poverty rate of the state has increased by 5 percent or more, the state must prepare and submit a corrective action plan outlining the manner in which the state will reduce the child poverty rate.