Conference Report language accompanying the targeted welfare outcomes research funding for Fiscal Years 1998 and 1999 urged the Department to submit its research plan to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to receive guidance on research design and recommendations for further research. Accordingly, we have provided over $1 million to the NAS to convene an expert panel to evaluate current and future welfare reform research. An interim report for this panel study, Evaluating Welfare Reform: A Framework and Review of Current Work, Interim Report, was released in September, 1999, and covers the NAS panel's early recommendations to the Department on welfare reform evaluation strategies. The final report is expected in late 2000.
The 30-month NAS Welfare Outcomes Panel Study was established to evaluate the design of current, proposed and future studies of the effects of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996. The panel's interim report provides a framework for conducting evaluations of welfare program changes, reviews current Departmental efforts to evaluate these changes, and provides the panel's initial conclusions and recommendations. The short-run recommendations for welfare evaluation strategies offered by the panel are consistent with the Department's research on welfare reform:
- set priorities on key welfare policy questions and concerns
- include a broad population of recipients, former recipients and potential recipients in welfare reform research
- place a high priority on improving the capabilities of data collection efforts
- work toward cross-state and within-state comparability of data and research on welfare program effects
- document and publish each State's TANF policies and changes to these policies on an ongoing basis
- encourage broader population coverage in existing leavers studies
- facilitate greater overall comparability in existing leavers studies
As noted in the body of the interim report, the Department is already taking most of the recommended steps. Our FY 1998, 1999 and 2000 studies cover a broad array of topics including the examination of diversion practices, an assessment of those leaving the TANF rolls, and participation in other programs such as Medicaid. Projects are also in place to study the effects of welfare reform on special populations (e.g., people with mental health and substance abuse problems and other disabilities, immigrant families) and the Department 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 contractor. 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.