Status of Research on the Outcomes of Welfare Reform, 2000. Future Directions


Building and enhancing state and local capacity for data collection and monitoring studies remains integral to our welfare reform research efforts. We hope to continue supporting state-level data collection efforts, administrative data linking, and the creation of public-use and restricted-access data files. Because TANF is a state-driven program, states must continue to take the lead in monitoring outcomes for their own state and local populations. ASPE, however, can continue to play an important role in facilitating these efforts in several important ways: providing grants to build state data collection and research capacities, providing technical assistance to improve the quality of research results, ensuring more uniformity and comparability across studies, and synthesizing results across state and local level monitoring studies.

National surveys are critical to the study of current and former welfare recipients, as well as to the study of the low-income population in general. ASPE will continue to support secondary data analyses with national-level data sources to add to our understanding of the effects of welfare reform. For example, ASPE plans to continue using a variety of national surveys for analytical work focused on labor market and economic issues affecting low-income families with children, low-wage workers and the working poor. To ensure the relevance of our national surveys to the study of welfare reform, ASPE also will continue to work with the Census Bureau and other government agencies to make certain that national survey instruments are responsive to policy changes and needs.

Since no new national survey to obtain state-level estimates or to develop a representative national picture of the low-income population is planned, it is critically important that ASPE support and maintain a wide range of Census Bureau data collection efforts, such as the Survey of Program Dynamics (SPD), the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), the Current Population Survey (CPS), and the American Community Survey (ACS). The SPD, in particular, is a necessary component of our understanding of the effects of welfare reform on the low-income population. The Census Bureau needs to be able to produce and distribute on a more timely basis longitudinal SIPP and SPD data, which we believe are crucial in ensuring our ability to perform welfare-related analyses in time for the upcoming TANF reauthorization debate.

Evaluation of the effects of particular aspects of the TANF program is also important. Because of the great diversity of state and local TANF programs, a large-scale national or full-state evaluation is not possible. Rather, using research funds to form partnerships with individual states or small groups of states is a more appropriate role for ASPE. It is difficult, however, to generalize evaluation results from a small number of sites to additional geographic locations with unique economic conditions, varied program rules, and different population compositions. As a result, it is also necessary to support analytical work aimed at interpreting evaluation results in a larger context. Finally, it is important to note that implementing any type of evaluation effort involves a multi-year financial commitment.

Overall, our goal is to create an integrated picture of the low-income population, most importantly of low-income families with children, in the wake of welfare reform. Meeting this goal requires on-going research on welfare outcomes, including program analysis and evaluation, as well as broader analyses of the economic condition, health status, and socio-demographic characteristics of low-income individuals and families. Implementing a broad-based research agenda that addresses this wide range of welfare outcomes research is one of ASPE's most important roles within the Department.

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. Our research agenda is developed and carried out with a full understanding of other efforts, both within and outside the federal government, to assess and monitor the outcomes of welfare reform. This ensures that, to the fullest extent possible, our research complements and enhances other efforts while avoiding unnecessary duplication. In addition, the Department's ASPE-funded research on welfare reform outcomes is consistent with the short-run recommendations for welfare evaluation strategies offered in the Interim Report of the National Academy of Sciences Panel Study on Welfare Outcomes (which are summarized in the next chapter).

The Department is committed to advancing its welfare outcomes research agenda. The projects funded in FYs 1998, 1999 and 2000 cover a broad array of topics, from an examination of diversion practices, to an assessment of those leaving the TANF rolls, from participation in other programs such as Medicaid, to projects studying the effects of welfare reform on special populations, e.g., disability, substance abuse issues, the homeless, and child-only cases. The Department also continues to provide leadership in national-level survey work. This research agenda complements other public and private efforts to assess the outcomes of welfare reform. The Department is also working to facilitate greater comparability in state and local level studies through grantee meetings, list-serve discussions, guidance to states and a technical assistance contract. Furthermore, our strategy of providing grants to states and local TANF agencies is explicitly designed to increase state and local capacity for data collection efforts.