Tracking Welfare Reform: Designing Followup Studies of Recipients Who Leave Welfare. How Can the Need for Information Be Balanced with Cost Concerns?


Valid followup studies require a substantial investment of resources that could otherwise be used for direct services to help recipients find and keep jobs. Money for followup studies can come from federal TANF funds or state maintenance-of-effort funds. Most states have experienced a substantial reduction in their caseload, which makes questions about what has happened to families that have left welfare more important. The decline in caseloads also means that money that otherwise would have been spent for benefit payments is available for followup studies. However, spending on followup studies means less money for services to recipients trying to leave welfare and for transitional services to families that have already left the rolls. Although policymakers, the media, and the public remain intensely interested in the effects of welfare reforms, policymakers must weigh the value of increased information against the cost of collecting it. Valid followup studies require substantial spending, and much of the information may need to be collected again at different points in time—months or even years apart. Quick studies that are not well thought out can be misleading and will not answer all of the questions that policymakers and the public are asking.