Status Report on Research on the Outcomes of Welfare Reform, 2002. Interim Products from Continuing Welfare Outcomes-Funded Studies


Grants to States and Localities to Study Welfare Reform Outcomes, with an Emphasis on Diversion (1999)

One of the Congress's major objectives in providing welfare outcomes money to ASPE over the last several years is to measure outcomes for a broad population of low-income families, welfare recipients, former recipients, potential recipients, and other special populations affected by state TANF policies, including diversion practices (3). To this end, ASPE issued a request for applications from states and large counties in April 1999 with an emphasis on the study of applicants and potential applicants to the TANF program. ASPE awarded seven grants under this announcement, six of which specifically support state efforts to gather a variety of information about individuals and their families who apply to TANF, including those who are formally or informally diverted. In addition, several of the leavers studies funded in FY 1998 had significant applicant components to their projects.

ASPE is particularly interested in learning about 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. Below are summaries of the grants provided to states and large counties in fiscal years 1998 and 1999 with a particular emphasis on TANF applicants and diversion from TANF. "Diversion" in this context is not limited to participation in formal diversion programs, but also includes "informal" divertees. These are usually defined as individuals who began the application process but were either deemed ineligible for non-monetary reasons, withdrew voluntarily after completing the process, or failed to complete the process for some other reason. These project updates are current as of March 2002.

Arizona (1999)

Arizona built on their FY 1998 study of leavers by looking at informal divertees and entrants to TANF. The study used a wide range of administrative data (including data on child care subsidies) to track second quarter 1999 divertees and entrants for 12 months, and included two waves of surveys of 400 individuals in both populations. Some of the subgroups on which the state focused included urban vs. rural applicants and applicants who are initially denied but eventually reapplied for TANF. Arizona collected administrative data from a number of different sources, including a data warehouse established as part of the FY 1998 ASPE leavers grant.

The final report for the project was released in October 2001, and a link to the report has been posted on ASPE's website. Both sets of applicants (divertees and entrants) showed dramatic increases in employment, income, and other indicators during the study period, and most of the families stated that they were better off at the time of the second interview (about 15 months after applying for TANF). However, about half of the respondents remained unemployed, and cited medical issues and preference to care for the child at home as the main reasons for not working.

Contra Costa County and Alameda County, California (1999)

Contra Costa and Alameda Counties are located in the East San Francisco Bay area of California and contain the cities of Oakland and Richmond. This project studied TANF leavers from both counties, as well as formal and informal divertees in Contra Costa County. Researchers at the SPHERE Institute were able to take advantage of these counties' Case Data System (CDS), which includes every TANF application that is initiated in the two counties. The CDS allowed SPHERE to uncover the reasons individuals were diverted from or left TANF, as well as make comparisons across the two counties. SPHERE used the CDS both to link all applicants with other administrative databases and to draw their survey sample of 850 leavers and 150 divertees from the third quarter of 1999. Comparisons between divertees, leavers and cases that transitioned to child-only cases, and between the two counties were made in the final report, which includes data from two rounds of surveys.

The SPHERE Institute released the final report for this project in October 2001. They found that, overall, conditions improve in the period following TANF application for both leavers and the informally diverted, but that one year after applying for TANF, leavers were doing somewhat better than informally diverted families and much better than families that transitioned to child-only cases. Awareness and use of post-exit "transitional" benefits was not high. A link to the final report (Assessing the Family Circumstances of TANF Applicants and Leavers in Contra Costa and Alameda Counties, CA: Final Report) has been posted on ASPE's web site at <>.

Texas (1999)

This project represented the combined efforts of the Texas Department of Human Services, the Texas Workforce Commission, and the University of Texas-Austin. It focused not only on informal divertees, but also on potential TANF applicants who are formally diverted by the state, either through a one-time lump sum payment or by redirection into work. The administrative data analysis incorporated a wide variety of sources, and tracked both applicants who were redirected into work or denied for non-financial reasons and participants in the lump-sum diversion program. In addition to the two waves of surveys conducted with applicants who were denied TANF for non-financial reasons, the state added leavers to both the survey and administrative samples.

The final report for the project was released by the Texas Department of Human Services in January 2002, and a link to the report has been posted on ASPE's web site. The state found that families diverted from TANF quickly resumed their prior levels of receipt of TANF, Medicaid and food stamps, as well as their prior level of earnings, suggesting that diversion policies in Texas have few long-term effects on diverted families. The majority of redirected applicants and leavers were employed in the period immediately following the study quarter.

Leavers Studies that also Examine Diverted Populations (Florida, San Mateo, and South Carolina) (1998)

Three FY 1998 grants that have a primary focus of studying outcomes for families leaving welfare also include research on families that were formally or informally diverted from entering TANF. These three grants are Florida, a consortium of California counties, and South Carolina.

The Florida study, undertaken by researchers at Florida State University, examines three groups of individuals from the second quarter of 1997: TANF leavers, individuals who began the application process but who either withdrew voluntarily after completing the process or failed to complete the process ("diverts"), and individuals who receive food stamps or Medicaid, have minor children, and have income and assets below the cash assistance limit but who do not receive cash assistance ("opt-nots"). Findings from Florida's final report, released in November 2000, indicated that the "diverts" and "opt-nots" look very similar to leavers in terms of employment rates. However, leavers appear to have slightly higher earnings and slightly lower use of government services than the other two groups.

The study in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties in California was funded primarily as a leavers study. However, because the administrative system in all three counties includes all applications, and not just those for individuals who receive TANF, researchers at the SPHERE Institute were able to also study informal divertees. Analysis of administrative data is being supplemented by surveys administered at six, 12 and 18 months after "case closure" (when either the applicant withdraws from the application process or the TANF recipient leaves the program). A draft report summarizing the first wave of survey data along with linked administrative data was released in December 2000.

A final report from SPHERE incorporating the second and third waves of survey data was released in November 2001. At eighteen months after the study quarter, conditions were improving for both leavers and informally diverted families. Trends in the awareness and use of transitional assistance were positive among leavers and divertees, but the findings also indicated room for further improvement. For example, the use of food stamps declined among one-parent leaver and informally diverted families, but the percentage of eligible families not receiving food stamps also declined.

The project in South Carolina also is focused primarily on leavers, but state researchers have also used food stamp records to identify families that appeared to be eligible for cash assistance but were not enrolled. Surveys were conducted with families who went on food stamps between October 1998 and March 1999 and who did not subsequently apply for TANF. The surveys took place at approximately one year and two years after entry into the food stamp caseload. Each of the families had dependent children and was eligible for TANF based on gross income, but did not enroll in the TANF program.

A report detailing the findings from Wave 1 of the survey was released by South Carolina and their contractor, MAXIMUS, in June 2001, and Wave 2 survey results subsequently were released in June 2002. Results of the study suggest that, in addition to families who divert from welfare due to time limits or work requirements, there may be a broader population of families who are not going on welfare even though they are eligible based on their level of income and number of dependent children. The final report detailing findings from Wave 3 of the survey and summarizing the previous reports is expected to be released in Fall 2002.

Describing State Initiatives to Promote and Support Marriage (2001)

One of the four purposes of TANF is to "end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work and marriage." An important step in advancing the policy agenda around supporting marriage is to build a greater knowledge base around existing state policies pertaining to marriage. This project, conducted by the Lewin Group, develops an inventory of state-level policies directly aimed at promoting and supporting marriage in the following areas: campaigns, commissions and proclamations; divorce laws and procedures; marriage and relationship preparation and education; state tax policies; state transfer policies; state vital statistics; marriage support and promotion; youth education and development; court initiatives; and specialty programs. The project is purely descriptive, documenting which policies exist across states without assessing policy effectiveness or promising practices. Information was gathered primarily through secondary sources of information such as printed reports and web searches. An interim report was released in Spring 2002 and is available on the ASPE website at <>. The final report, which will make minor revisions, is expected to be released in Summer 2002.

The Link Between Marriage and Low-Income Family Well-Being (2000) (formerly How Important is Marriage to Low-Income Family Well-Being?)

This project, a Researcher Initiated Grant on Welfare Outcomes awarded to the Urban Institute, began in September 2000 and is examining the interactions between family formation status and economic well-being to better understand the extent to which marriage is a protective factor against economic hardship, particularly among the disadvantaged population. The study examines various types of family formation, including single, married and cohabiting parents, and it looks at measures of poverty as well as material hardship. The project is producing four reports, based on various data sources.

The first report, completed in August 2001, is based on data from the National Survey of America's Families, and found that, overall, marriage reduced the likelihood that parents would experience poverty of material hardship. The report is titled Marriage as a Protective Factor Against Economic Hardship: An Initial Report. The second and third reports, Married and Unmarried Parenthood and the Economic Well-Being of Families: A Dynamic Analysis of a Recent Cohort and The Relationship Between Marriage and Other Family Structures and the Material Hardship Experienced by Households with Children: Evidence from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, respectively, are expected to be completed by Summer 2002. The final report, a literature review, also is anticipated to be completed by Summer 2002.

Evaluation of State Programs of Abstinence Education (2001)

The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (BBA) authorized an evaluation of abstinence education programs that are funded through Title V Section 510 of the Social Security Act and administered by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB) within the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The BBA set aside $3 million for each of fiscal years 1998 and 1999 for federally sponsored evaluations of abstinence education programs. ASPE was delegated responsibility for managing the evaluation, and competitively awarded a contract to Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. to carry out this work. The ASPE 2001 funds will allow the evaluation to follow adolescents for longer periods of time.

The Interim Report to Congress, The Title V Abstinence Education Program Evaluation: The First Four Years, released in April 2002, describes the progress of the evaluation and presents early implementation and operational findings, drawing most heavily on the experience of the 11 abstinence education programs that were selected to be in the evaluation. The report illustrates the wide range of abstinence education programs that are operating, and the innovative ways in which programs are using funds to promote abstinence as the healthiest choice for youth. A number of the initiatives are diverse, creative, and, in many instances, offer youth much more than a single message of abstinence. Youth respond positively to staff who show strong and unambiguous commitment to the program message, and programs that use an intensive set of youth development services to enhance and support the abstinence message are very well received. The report shows that addressing peer pressure is difficult, and many programs have struggled to address these issues and engage parents in this process. The report also describes some ways in which programs may partner with local schools to provide abstinence education, highlighting some of the challenges to creating and sustaining these partnerships. No programmatic impacts are presented in the Interim Report. Details and updated information about the evaluation can be found at Mathematica Policy Research's web site on abstinence-only education programs <>.