Status Report on Research on the Outcomes of Welfare Reform, 2001. Economic Supports for Poor Families


There is a strong interest in understanding the effects of welfare reform within the context of the devolution of responsibility for major social programs from the federal government to the states. Questions about the implementation and outcomes of welfare reform are legion and encompass a broad range of interests and perspectives. The Department acted early to create a research, evaluation and data strategy that would assure that the implementation of welfare reform and its effects would be documented. The continued infusion of Policy Research funding dedicated to studying welfare outcomes has been and will continue to be invaluable to our efforts to add to and enhance the information that will be available to the Department, Congress, and other interested parties in upcoming debates about future directions for welfare reform. The following new projects and continuation efforts are included in our FY 2001 plan:

Demonstration and Evaluation of Enhanced Services for the Hard-to-Employ

State and local agencies are making substantial investments through TANF and other sources to help low income families with demonstrated difficulty entering and sustaining employment. There is a significant amount of activity and a variety of approaches being used to help low-income parents address or cope with the personal and family problems that interfere with their employment stability. ACF and ASPE will support a multi-site evaluation of programs working with hard-to-employ low-income parents in order to identify effective strategies for promoting employment and family well-being and to determine the effects of such programs on employment, earnings, income, welfare dependence, family functioning, and the well-being of children. The contractor will design and conduct a multi-site evaluation that studies the implementation issues, net impact, and benefit-costs of selected programs. During the first year, the contractor will assist HHS in identifying and recruiting programs with potential for evaluation and will assist selected programs in strengthening or expanding services to meet requisite conditions for rigorous evaluation.

Support for Working Families and Their Children

ASPE will support a National Governors' Association project to build state and local capacity to provide work supports which help low-income working parents sustain employment and advance in the labor market as well as increase positive family functioning and child well-being. The project is designed to make these kinds of supports for low-income working families a central and primary objective within existing or developed entities (e.g. one-stop career centers). Specific activities would include brief case studies of existing projects and convening a roundtable of state/local partners interested in further development of projects along these lines. DOL/ETA and USDA/ERS are also expected to provide funding for this project.

Measures of Short-Term Educational Attainment

ASPE will be one of several agencies participating in this project to develop survey questions around nondegree educational attainment. Currently, many national surveys measure whether a person has a high school diploma, two-year, four-year or graduate degree, but fail to capture nondegree programs, for example, a ten month certificate in home health service. These funds will be used for development and cognitive testing of questions on nondegree educational attainment that could eventually be incorporated into national surveys. The availability of such data would greatly enhance research and inform policy around labor market outcomes for current, former and potential TANF recipients. Our work on this project would be in conjunction with ASPE's membership on The Committee on Measures of Educational Attainment, chartered by the Interagency Council on Statistical Policy.

Measures of Family Hardship

Although a number of national and state surveys have begun gathering measures of family hardship (e.g., utility cutoffs, inability to get needed medical attention, food insecurity, evictions), it is hard to respond to Congressional interest in gathering information on a state-by-state basis, given the small sample size of most national surveys and the lack of comparability across state surveys. One long-term option is to add material hardship questions to a supplement of the Current Population Survey (CPS) and administer the supplement three times, to gather state-by-state estimates over a multi-year time-period, as has been done for the Food Security Supplement. This project would explore the feasibility of this and other long-term options. It would include a review of questions included in national surveys and state studies, an options paper for moving toward state-level estimates, a one-day meeting to consider these issues, and a set of recommended questions on material hardship.

Project on Devolution and Urban Change

ASPE will provide continuing support to the Project on Devolution and Urban Change. This ongoing project studies impacts of welfare reform and welfare to work programs on low-income individuals, families, and the communities in which they live, in four large urban areas — Cleveland, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Miami. ACF/HHS and ERS/USDA have joined ASPE in funding this project for the past two years. The federal contribution to this project leverages a substantial investment by foundations, which are funding the majority of the over $20 million project cost.

FPLS Research Database Construction

PRWORA authorized HHS to retain data from the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS) for TANF and child support enforcement research purposes. This is a rich source of wage and employment data, but does not include key program participation and demographic variables. Previously, ASPE, OCSE, and OPRE funded consultations with researchers and policymakers, resulting in a report proposing three design options for a research database which would combine FPLS data with other HHS data to give a comprehensive and continuing picture of the low income population. The Department is currently assessing these options. This project would implement the chosen database design by constructing a research database for Department use and perhaps putting together public use data files.

Linking State TANF Policies to Outcomes

In FY 2000, ASPE issued a task order to the Urban Institute to analyze and synthesize available information on state welfare and related support policies and assess which characteristics of state programs or background characteristics are most significant in predicting outcomes. As part of this project, Urban convened a technical work group (TWG) of researchers to make recommendations on which existing typologies were most promising and on directions for analysis. The TWG recommended that Urban develop new typologies, rather than modifying existing typologies, and suggested that cluster and factor analysis be used to determine which policies were most significant in differentiating between different packages of state policy choices. In order to carry out these recommendations, the task order will need to be modified and additional resources provided.

Support for the Research Forum on Children, Families, and the New Federalism Database and Web Site

This project supports the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) Research Forum database and web site. The web site is designed to provide the most reliable information to key stakeholders, including researchers, policymakers, administrators, and practitioners concerning welfare reform interventions being tested; populations and geographic areas being assessed; research methods being used; major findings already available; and when future findings will be released. The data base and web site provide valuable information useful to Federal officials and other practitioners regarding research and demonstration initiatives related to welfare reform and the well-being of low-income children and families.

South Carolina Welfare Outcomes Grant

This project provides the final year commitment to support a multi-year effort by South Carolina's Office of Budget and Control Board's Office of Research and Statistics to link administrative data and additional data from surveys of former welfare recipients and those diverted from cash assistance. The funds are provided through an ACF cooperative agreement and will allow South Carolina to continue its contract for the expansion of the follow-up studies.

Panel Study of Income Dynamics: Core Support and Expanded Sample for Child Supplement

This project continues ASPE's on-going core support for the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. ASPE funds provide partial support for the continued collection and processing of longitudinal data relevant to research on economic factors and income support mechanisms, health, fertility, medical care and disability affecting the poor and the elderly. ASPE funds will continue to support an expansion of the set of welfare related questions to assess the effects that recent reforms have on the extent to which families come on TANF (entry effects). In addition, there is a one time supplement to support an expanded sample of low income families with children for core data collection activities related to the Child Supplement.