Tracking Welfare Reform: Designing Followup Studies of Recipients Who Leave Welfare. Confidentiality Issues


Although the use of administrative records does not impose an additional data collection burden on clients or employers, confidentiality issues related to both of these groups must be dealt with carefully. For example, as part of New York's application process, unemployment insurance beneficiaries give passive permission for the state to use wage records for research purposes. State laws or regulations governing the new hire registries might have to be changed to allow them to be used for this purpose.

Generally, as state agencies have become accustomed to, and developed procedures for, matching wage records with other data files, concerns about confidentiality have eased. This is especially true now that other agencies are interested in using wage records as part of their evaluation strategies. The most formidable confidentiality issues relate to school records. State laws and policies differ in terms of restrictions on the sharing and release of information. States experienced in using unemployment insurance wage records suggest that it is important to be specific about who will have access to which data and the purposes for which the data will be used. In addition, each research project involving the use of wage records should be approved separately. Experienced researchers suggest that it is best to try to handle confidentiality issues at the technical rather than political level to ensure the continuity of data-sharing agreements and to avoid having to revisit these issues every time new political appointees assume office.