This study did not set out to identify factors that contribute to high or low levels of engagement among TANF recipients, nor did it include sites for their best or promising engagement practices. Though we identified a variety of strategies and administrative procedures used to encourage engagement, it was not possible to identify which ones worked well relative to the others or which had little or no effect on actual engagement. Additional research designed specifically to identify the factors that lead to higher levels of engagement would offer better guidance to other state and local programs in terms of how to adjust their strategies to the new engagement or participation requirements that may be included in the proposed TANF legislation.
In addition, we examined actual levels of engagement in program activities in the two sites that offered the broadest range of activities to all TANF recipients, and compared those levels of engagement to the federal participation rates for those sites. We found that the majority of recipients who are not counted in the federal participation rate calculation are not inactive but are participating in activities not considered in the federal participation rate calculation. Examining actual levels of engagement in sites that offer a more narrow range of activities as well would provide deeper insight into the extent to which the federal participation rate calculation is capturing activity among TANF recipients and the extent to which recipients are actively striving toward self-sufficiency.
(1) One program did not express interest in participating in the study, and the other was too early in its program implementation to add value to the study. In Ohio, where the TANF program is operated and administered at the county level, we selected two distinct counties to include in the study: Montgomery County, which includes Dayton, and Franklin County, which includes Columbus.