Status Report on Research on the Outcomes of Welfare Reform, 2002. Activities that Support Conferees' Recommendations


As we have noted, our overarching research objective in using targeted welfare outcomes funds has been and is to create an integrated picture of the low-income population, especially low-income families with children. We have devoted substantial resources to covering a wide spectrum of policy interests focusing on welfare outcomes, poverty, working families, supports for low-income populations, the hard-to-serve and other special populations, and effects on children. Welfare devolution and increased flexibility in the design and delivery of program benefits have created substantial new challenges for data collection and analysis to monitor welfare outcomes. To meet these challenges, new and better data are needed at the state and local level. Activities that support and enhance the collection, use, and linking of federal and state administrative data and state-specific surveys are critical to understanding the outcomes of welfare reform. Some examples of welfare outcomes-funded or proposed studies that support the research recommendations of the Conference Committee follow.

  • Focus broadly on the low-income population, including current, former and potential welfare recipients, and other special populations affected by state TANF policies

We have funded grants to states and large counties to gather a variety of information about individuals and their families who apply to TANF (including those who are formally or informally diverted) and the degree to which TANF applicants receive, or are aware of their potential eligibility for, Medicaid, food stamps, and other programs and services that are important in helping low-income families make a successful transition to work. (3) We are funding projects in six states to study the characteristics of their TANF caseloads, with particular attention to the personal, family and community factors that may present barriers to employment. Employment programs for low-income parents with barriers to work will be tested under the long-term, multi-site demonstration and evaluation of programs for 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. We also are supporting 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. A separate project is assessing the coping mechanisms used by low-income families, by examining factors that may help or hinder a family's efforts to be self-sufficient, including formal and informal support services, social support networks, and time and money management.

In addition, we are supporting a supplement to a broader study of the implications of welfare reform for low-income families in three cities that is examining how work participation requirements and time limits are affecting the service utilization, health and development, support networks, parenting and child care arrangements of adults and children with disabilities. We also are providing continuing support for an evaluation of the effectiveness of a substance abuse research demonstration project that includes coordinating screening, referral and treatment with employment and training or vocational services. Another project is examining trends in the demand for emergency assistance services, such as homeless shelters and food banks, from the mid-1990's to 2000. In recognition of the fact that the highest concentration of populations on TANF are living in neighborhoods where incarceration rates are also the highest, we funded a project that is investigating the effects of incarceration on low-income children, families, and communities.

Our researcher-initiated grants program spanning Fiscal Years 1999, 2000 and 2001 funded a variety of proposals looking broadly at low-income individuals (both adults and children) and their families. For example, one project is analyzing three groups of low-income populations - those who leave welfare for work, those who remain on welfare, and non-working welfare leavers - to examine the characteristics and circumstances of people who leave welfare and are not working and how welfare "stayers" are different from the "leavers." We also funded a proposal to examine the determinants of successful employment and wage outcomes among low-income workers. A separate project is looking at the employment rates, earnings, income and other measures of well-being among low-income families who have not applied for welfare or who have applied and been denied or diverted. Another project is examining how the lives of adolescents in single-mother, low-income families who received welfare during the early years of TANF are affected by their mothers' employment, and whether these changes in adolescents' lives are specific to families receiving welfare or common among single-mother, low-income families more generally. We also funded a project documenting the incidence of child disability among low-income and welfare-recipient, single-mother families and the impact that children with disabilities have on their families' ability to exit welfare and poverty. Yet another project is examining the conditions and capabilities of vulnerable mothers and fathers in the first few years following enactment of PRWORA to evaluate the impact of TANF and child support policies.

Our FY 2002 research plan includes several proposed projects that focus broadly on the low-income population. For example, one study would focus on families who exit and re-enter welfare, particularly those who return for multiple times, in an attempt to identify the demographic characteristics and employment outcomes of "cyclers," whether their patterns of benefit receipt and cycling patterns have changed since PRWORA, and whether cyclers re-entering welfare for the third time are treated differently than other families by local offices. Another planned project would explore the coordination of TANF and one-stop employment centers and the unique challenges involved in serving welfare and ex-welfare clients, and the low-skilled in general, through one-stop centers designed to serve people at all income and skill levels. A separate planned project would attempt to better understand the different types of child-only cases, the service needs of these families, and how states are meeting those needs. These and other projects will help us achieve our goal of covering all important low-income population groups in our research programs, including current, former and potential welfare recipients.

  • Collect and use state-specific surveys, state and federal administrative data and administratively-linked data to develop and report state-by-state measures of family hardship and well-being and the utilization of other support programs

ASPE has devoted substantial resources to supporting state-level data collection efforts and administrative data linking, making certain that national survey instruments are responsive to policy changes and needs, supporting and maintaining a wide range of Census Bureau data collection efforts, and supporting secondary analyses of state and national-level data to add to our understanding of the effects of welfare reform. We have also committed funds for several projects geared toward developing state-level data on hardship and/or program utilization.

One of our researcher-initiated grant projects is using state and county administrative data to study the demographics, welfare participation, employment retention, and post-exit earnings of five cohorts of welfare recipients in North Carolina, to examine welfare exits, employment stability, earnings mobility, recidivism, longer-term labor market outcomes, types of jobs recipients obtain and the range of wages for these jobs. Another is exploring the long-term utilization of food stamp and Medicaid benefits for two cohorts of welfare recipients who left cash assistance in Wisconsin. A separate study is examining the accuracy of self-reports of program participation in survey data by comparing self-reported program participation among Californians interviewed in the national Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) with California administrative files of program participation. The New Jersey Department of Human Services is examining the extent to which former welfare recipients who leave welfare for work are likely to be eligible for Unemployment Insurance (UI), using a set of administrative and survey data from an ongoing evaluation. A study in Washington is estimating the effects of state-level policies (using a database of policy indicators in 11 program areas, including some transfer, tax, in-kind, and work support policies, over six years) on families' resources, resource packages, and experience of hardship.

We have provided support for an on-going project designed to match Social Security earnings records with samples of adult welfare recipients and non-recipients from Census surveys to help assess employment and earnings patterns and outcomes on the basis of baseline characteristics.

Our support for the administration of a welfare participation question in the State and Local Area Integrated Telephone Survey (SLAITS) has contributed to the fielding of a survey data element that, when combined with other data available from the survey, will permit the development of state-level estimates of the incidence of special health care needs of children of current and former welfare recipients, plus the health insurance status (including Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program, SCHIP) of current and former recipients. We also have provided funds to support the longitudinal New Immigrant Survey which will collect data on program utilization, health and economic status, and other characteristics among newly arriving low-income immigrant families in different states. ASPE's contribution will help ensure that comprehensive and relevant data are collected and analyzed and that the study focuses on how children in these families are faring. In addition, we have funded a project to advance our understanding of the value and limitations of measures of material hardship as a component of family well-being.

We have funded several projects which are utilizing existing administrative and survey data. For example, we have contributed support to Project on Devolution and Urban Change, a multi-disciplinary study of the implementation and impacts of welfare reform and welfare-to-work programs on low-income individuals, families and communities in four large urban areas, using, among other data sources, longitudinal administrative data for all families receiving AFDC/TANF or food stamps dating back to 1992. Under a separate task order we are analyzing survey data on the personal characteristics, potential barriers to employment, strengths and resources and preparation for employment of current TANF recipients in Illinois to explore the relationships of various factors contributing to employment outcomes. We also are supporting a small grant program for young scholars to encourage secondary analyses of new HHS-sponsored administrative and survey data sets to explore aspects of welfare reform. Finally, the competitive grants we awarded to states and large counties to examine welfare leavers, individuals and their families who apply to TANF (including those who are formally or informally diverted), and the characteristics of TANF caseloads, used or are using various combinations of state and federal administrative and survey data to report on a variety of welfare reform outcomes.

A project building on past ASPE-funded studies of welfare leavers and welfare applicants is proposed for FY 2002. This study would focus on the subgroup of TANF families who exit and re-enter welfare, particularly those who return for multiple times. Another proposed project would utilize five federally administered databases to provide state-by-state estimates of important welfare outcomes. Projects such as these support the overall goal of ensuring that good data are available to create an integrated picture of the low income population, especially families with children, in the wake of welfare reform.

  • Include efforts to link the National Directory of New Hires, other child support enforcement data, TANF and Medicaid records together to assess the impact of child support enforcement efforts and analyze how the earnings of custodial and non-custodial parents have changed over time and whether the pattern is significantly different among states.

The Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS), operated by ACF's Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) is primarily a national system to help states locate non-custodial parents, alleged fathers, and custodial parents so they can establish and enforce child support obligations. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) expanded the data available in this system to include information on child support cases and wage and employment data, including the National Directory of New Hires.

PRWORA also authorized HHS to retain samples of this data and use them for research purposes likely to contribute to achieving the purposes of titles IV-A (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) or IV-D (Child Support Enforcement and Paternity Establishment). The Department has awarded a contract to implement an FPLS research database, in conjunction with TANF and Medicaid data, that will provide information about the effects of welfare reform on TANF, Medicaid and child support participants, and help identify the significance of program interactions in increasing self-sufficiency among low-income families. The analysis from the database also will assist federal and state program oversight, research, statistical reporting, and the policy and evaluation purposes related to the TANF and child support enforcement programs and the low-income populations they serve. Currently these databases are not linked. While some limited cross-sectional matches are currently possible between TANF and the child support enforcement databases, there is no mechanism for creating a longitudinal database that would permit analysis of client and program interactions over time.

ASPE is working with OCSE, ACF's Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE), and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' Office of Strategic Planning to develop this project, which builds on a feasibility study undertaken by ASPE and ACF in FY 1998 to examine research needs and database design issues. Departmental privacy, legal, and technical staff will be consulted, as well as appropriate outside experts. Assuming all the legal and technical issues can be resolved, this phase of the database project is expected to be completed by the end of 2003.

In its current form the expanded FPLS comprises one of the most comprehensive sources of employment information available anywhere, but does not include key program participation and demographic variables. Combined with other administrative data, such as the Medicaid Statistical Information System (MSIS), State Medicaid Research File (SMRF) and the TANF databases, it offers the opportunity to answer questions about the programs and populations of interest that previously we have been unable to answer. Such data matching could allow us to compare the TANF and/or Medicaid populations with similarly situated non-TANF and/or non-Medicaid families, compare families within and outside the child support enforcement system, and examine interactions between the three programs.

Using these databases, cross-sectional analysis will provide very important point-in-time estimations of the current IV-D, IV-A, and Medicaid policy environments and a snap-shot of the characteristics of various populations of interest to HHS. As noted above, some point-in-time analysis can be done with relatively simple cross-matches between existing data files. For example, FPLS data have been matched to some of the "welfare leavers" studies to provide data on employment and earnings. However, the planned longitudinal database would allow us to better address policy questions such as:

  • What proportion of custodial parents and children are receiving benefits from other public assistance programs (e.g., TANF, Medicaid) over time? What is the relationship between IV-D enrollment and Medicaid and TANF receipt over time?
  • Are TANF applicants and leavers enrolled in Medicaid over time? What are the characteristics of those enrolled and not enrolled?
  • What proportion of TANF leavers are employed in the period immediately after they are identified as a "leaver?" How many have periods of unemployment and do they receive unemployment insurance? What are the characteristics of TANF leavers who become unemployed? What are the characteristics of TANF leavers who have frequent job changes?
  • Does receipt of Medicaid and child support decrease the proportion of TANF leavers who return to TANF, or increase the length of time between TANF spells?
  • Do TANF and Medicaid applicants, recipients, and leavers have child support orders? What are the characteristics of those with and without orders?
  • Does receipt of Medicaid and/or TANF affect the amount of time it takes to move a IV-D case through the paternity and award establishment processes?
  • What are the earnings patterns of non-custodial parents? What are the earnings patterns of custodial parents? How do these patterns affect program participation and collection of support?
  • Are there different interactions across programs in individual states, and how do these different interactions relate to state policies and characteristics?

In addition to the linked micro-level administrative data, state macro-level policy, program and economic variable files also will be developed for use in conjunction with the database. These variables would include such things as annual state TANF benefit levels, Medicaid service packages, unemployment and not-in-the-labor-force rates, population poverty levels, program investments, paternity establishment rates and utilization of child support enforcement techniques. Such variables will allow us to examine state-by-state policy effects.

Our FY 2002 proposed research agenda includes a joint ASPE-ACF-CMS project to support the FPLS, TANF and Medicaid data warehouse to meet the on-going information needs of all the participating agencies. Another proposed project will link several federally administered databases (including TANF closed cases, the NDNH and quarterly earnings database) to provide state-by-state estimates of welfare outcomes for former TANF recipients. We also plan a project to examine how child support status (i.e., paternity established, order established, receipt of child support) interacts with TANF exit or re-entry, and coordination between the TANF and child support agencies. We anticipate that some questions could be answered through state administrative data matching, and others through site visits to states that demonstrate promising practices.

The Department is committed to advancing its welfare outcomes research agenda. The research, evaluation and data projects funded by the targeted Policy Research funds are critical to understanding the outcomes of welfare reform, and crucial to the Department's ability to respond to questions about those outcomes. The projects funded in FYs 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001 cover a broad array of topics. We continue to provide leadership in national-level survey work and are working to facilitate greater comparability in state and local level studies and increase state and local capacity for data collection efforts.