Tracking Welfare Reform: Designing Followup Studies of Recipients Who Leave Welfare. What Kinds of Cases Should Be Examined in Followup Studies?


Current followup studies look at different sets of recipients and former recipients.

  • All closed cases. Most states include all case closures in their studies. States' primary purposes in conducting followup studies suggest the need for including all closed cases. If states focus only on sanctioned or ambiguous case closures, they will not be able to assess positive outcomes for those who leave welfare for work and remain employed and self-sufficient. Moreover, many families that leave welfare "voluntarily" do not have jobs or stable support systems, and many recipients that have jobs lose them. For these reasons, states want to learn how leaving welfare affects all families. Including more types of cases will require more resources if conclusions are going to be drawn about the different types of cases.
  • Closed cases with ambiguous or high-risk reasons for closure. During the conversion to new welfare-to-work systems, many families dropped off the rolls. Many of these cases were closed because of reported work and earnings or other factors that suggested recipients would be able to support their families. Other reasons for closing cases may be ambiguous (e.g., "voluntary" or "never showed up for appointment"). Although some closures may be because an individual found a job, others may be because an individual did not understand the program requirements or did not want to participate. Combined with sanctioned cases, these cases pose the greatest risks of families suffering hardships and deprivation. Focusing on these cases enables welfare officials to identify families that need emergency services or children that may need to be removed from their familes as well as those cases that have had positive outcomes.
  • Sanctioned or time-limited cases. Several states have focused on sanctioned cases because of their concerns about what happens to families that do not comply with the new requirements. Children in these families are often at the greatest risk of hardship. In addition, welfare officials concerned about the effects of sanctions want to know why families have not met their participation requirements. Surveys or home visits can provide important information about how the program is working and how it might be changed to avoid unnecessary sanctions. As recipients reach the end of time limits in more states, these cases will likely receive more attention.
  • Current recipients and closed cases. Some states have included both current recipients and closed cases in their studies. This focus enables officials to compare the experiences of current recipients with those of recipients that have left the rolls. Such comparisons contribute to states' understanding of the characteristics and experiences of recipients who are able to leave welfare and of how leaving welfare affects their well-being. The primary argument against this approach is its higher cost.
  • Applicants who withdraw or enter diversion programs. States seldom collect information about families that apply for welfare but who do not complete their applications. An important subgroup among these families are those that enter diversion programs—accepting one-time assistance or services in return for agreeing not to apply for monthly assistance for a certain period. States do not know much about this population—how much they contribute to the decline in welfare caseloads, what their reasons are for withdrawing their applications or entering the diversion programs, whether they are working or begin to work, and how well they are able to support their families without welfare assistance. Surveying them can be more difficult because welfare officials may have limited information about them, but cross-matching with administrative data should not be any harder for this group. Understanding the outcomes of diversion programs is also important, so states can begin to incorporate these cases into their studies.