The primary population of interest for measuring the effects of changes in social welfare programs is the low-income population. The primary group of interest to the TANF program is the population of low-income mothers and their children.
Within the low-income population, those groups who have been on welfare or who are eligible for welfare are of particular interest. Within the population of welfare eligibles, there are four separate subgroups, each of which is of special interest for welfare reform studies: those who leave welfare, those who stay on welfare, those who are formally diverted from welfare through diversion programs, and those who are poor but have not applied for benefits or who have applied but been rejected.
The specific service needs of some low-income individuals and families also define subpopulations of interest for welfare reform research. First among these are families with special circumstances or characteristics that make the transition to employment and self-sufficiency difficult. Other subgroups of the low-income population have special needs that require assistance independent of their effects on employment, including: families with poor physical or mental health, substance abuse problems, or problems of domestic violence, as well as families with troubled adolescents or children with special physical, cognitive, or behavioral problems.
The set of outcomes of interest for studies of welfare reform should be defined broadly to include all the outcomes that the different audiences of studies of welfare reform-the public, Congress and state legislators, and other governmental officials and program administrators-are concerned about.
The monitoring questions of interest are the following: How has the well-being of the low-income population and key subgroups evolved subsequent to welfare reform? Which subgroups are doing well and which are doing less well? Which subgroups are in greatest need and deserve the attention of policy makers?
The descriptive questions of interest regarding program policy and implementation are the following: What policies, programs, and administrative practices have states and localities actually implemented as part of welfare reform? How wide is the variation across states and even within states in policy? How has implementation differed from officially described policy? How has the non-TANF programmatic environment changed?
The impact evaluation questions of interest are the following: What are the overall effects of the complete bundle of changes in policies, programs, and practices on the well-being of the low-income population, including the effects on both adults and children and on specific subpopulations of interest? What are the effects of the individual broad components of welfare reform on the well-being of the low income population and subpopulations of interest? What are the effects of specific detailed strategies within each of the broad program components on the well-being of the low income population and the subpopulations of interest--what works and for whom?
The effect of welfare reform is a question of interest for the nation as a whole as well as for individual states.
The panel recommends that ASPE take primary responsibility for publicly defining the questions of interest for welfare reform research and evaluation, identifying emerging issues for social welfare programs, and defining alternative detailed strategies and policies that address the what-works-and-for-whom questions. In doing so, ASPE should expand its current activities in seeking input from states, private foundations, and other stakeholders on emerging policy and evaluation issues.
ASPE should produce an annual report to Congress that, among other things, presents a comprehensive list of the important questions to be addressed in welfare reform research, describes how those questions are being addressed in the overall landscape of welfare reform studies, and explains how its own research agenda relates to those questions and to other studies underway.