Status of Research on the Outcomes of Welfare Reform, 2000. Interpreting TANF Leaver Studies: Comparing ASPE Grantee States to the Nation as a Whole


The Conference Report accompanying the 1998 targeted appropriation specified that the Department assess the potential for using food stamp administrative data to look at welfare "leavers" and nonparticipants at the national level. Historically, almost all of the households that received AFDC/TANF also participated in the Food Stamp Program. As reported in "Characteristics and Financial Circumstances of TANF Recipients: July-September 1997," approximately 85 percent of TANF families received food stamp assistance during that period, which was consistent with previous levels under the AFDC program. (By contrast, households with AFDC/TANF constituted just 35 percent of all food stamp households in 1997 because of its broader base of eligibility, e.g., elderly people.) Since so many AFDC/TANF recipients also receive food stamps, the potential for using Food Stamp Program administrative data to examine the status of TANF recipients after they leave the TANF caseload was an important avenue to explore.

ASPE contracted with Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. (MPR) to conduct the study. However, after extensive discussions with USDA's Food and Nutrition Service concerning case information in the National Integrated Quality Control System (NIQCS) and state food stamp administrative records, it became clear that significant technical obstacles would need to be overcome in order to use food stamp administrative data to track welfare leavers and nonparticipants, and that assembling such data would not be feasible. The project was, therefore, re-focused.

The goal of the re-defined project was to explore whether grantee-states have similar characteristics to the nation as a whole, and thus the extent to which welfare outcomes findings from the grantee states (which are summarized at the beginning of this chapter) might be indicative of the national TANF experience. Using early data from the grantee leavers studies, the Current Population Survey, HHS administrative data and the FY1998 Food Stamp Quality Control program, MPR compared 15 study states to the rest of the nation in terms of caseload declines, employment and earnings outcomes, TANF policies and economic and demographic indicators.

In the March 2000 report, Interpreting TANF Leaver Studies: Comparing ASPE Grantee States to the Nation as a Whole, MPR found that the grantee states capture a diverse cross section of the U.S. experience, and thus findings from these studies are helpful in representing the range of potential outcomes associated with welfare reform. However, they also found some important differences and thus conclude that findings for the nation as a whole might differ from those in grantee states. For example, for the nation as a whole:

  • TANF exits may be more likely to result from increased earnings,
  • families may be less likely to be diverted from collecting benefits,
  • families may be better off in terms of material well-being, and
  • families may be more likely to continue receiving food stamps after leaving TANF.

Thus, it is possible that in some respects welfare outcomes for families in the nation as a whole may be somewhat more positive than for families in the grantee states.