Dec.18

Restoring the Entrails of Welfare Reform

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Abstract:

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 famously “ended welfare as we [knew] it” by replacing the state-operated Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program with a revised funding scheme called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). In the summer of 2012, controversy erupted over a memorandum issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), concerning state options for TANF performance reporting. Opponents of the Obama administration claimed the policy initiative specified in the memorandum signaled a fundamental change in direction of the national welfare policy established by PRWORA—that it “gutted” welfare reform. The memorandum has not (as of 2016) been rescinded, and the issues raised in the ensuing controversy remain unresolved. We review the controversy. We argue that while there is some justification in criticism of the Obama administration’s strategy, the initiative addressed an important problem: The inadequacy of the program’s performance measure given the variation in resources available to states in meeting the program’s goals. The ACF memo was in our judgment a responsible step toward finding methods for improving TANF performance and, as conducted, the guts debate retarded this search

Keywords: TANF, waivers, TANF participation rate, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

Dec.18

The Impacts of Self-Sufficiency Interventions on Recipients of Rental Housing Subsidies: An Exploratory Analysis of Data from Selected Randomized Controlled Trials

The Impacts of Self-Sufficiency Interventions on Recipients of Rental Housing Subsidies: An Exploratory Analysis of Data from Selected Randomized Controlled Trials (with James Riccio). Prepared for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. January 14, 2015.

This working paper explores the effects of various employment-advancement or antipoverty initiatives on labor market outcomes for participants in those programs who were also recipients of government rental subsidies. The findings are based on exploratory secondary analyses of data from a collection of randomized trials for which MDRC served as the evaluator. The purpose of these secondary analyses was to produce evidence that could help guide planning for future programs aiming to help housing-assistance recipients obtain, sustain, and advance in employment. The findings show that some interventions produced no effects on tenants’ employment and earnings, while others had some positive effects, but these were primarily limited to particular subgroups. Moreover, most tenants who benefited from the interventions remained a long way from self-sufficiency, suggesting the importance of continuing to develop and test more innovative approaches. The analysis was supported by a Research Partnerships Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), with matching funds from the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

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Dec.18

The TANF Resources Problem

With David Meni — Forthcoming (2017), Journal of Poverty and Public Policy.

2016 marks the twentieth anniversary of passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). Among other things, PRWORA replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children program (AFDC) with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Whereas a federal support for AFDC was an open-ended matching grant, TANF is funded with a block grant from the federal government combined with a “Maintenance of Effort” obligation for states. The block grant and MOE contributions are set for the most part at nominal levels from the mid-1990s. This paper looks at recent trends in TANF funding compared to trends in prevalence of child poverty. Compared to other work with similar intent, the novelty here lies in use of a more comprehensive poverty measure, incorporation of adjustments for interstate variation in prices, and a minor exploration of the connection between TANF resources and state fiscal capacity. Over the past decade inequality in state resources per poor child has increased. The disparities are great, making application of common performance standards without adjustment for resources questionable. Options for reform include separation of federal support for income maintenance from support for the various other programs that now garner well over half of TANF funding.

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Dec.18

Rethinking the ‘Promoting Opportunity Demonstration Project’

Rethinking the ‘Promoting Opportunity Demonstration Project’. Report to the U.S. Social Security Advisory Board. May 19, 2016. Available at http://www.ssab.gov/Details-Page/ArticleID/1010.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA) mandates that the Social Security Administration (SSA) conduct a “Promoting Opportunity Demonstration Project” (POD) to evaluate the effects of altering the treatment of earnings in calculation of benefits for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries who return to work. The change proposed would increase work incentives for some SSDI beneficiaries but reduce them for others. However, because of other requirements contained within the BBA, the POD cannot produce reliable evidence on the impact of the innovation Congress envisions, and it unnecessarily replicates another SSA demonstration, the Benefit Offset National Demonstration (BOND), that is already well underway. This paper, prepared for the Social Security Advisory Board, reviews current policy, outlines the changes proposed for the POD, and shows why restrictions included in the mandate would prevent the POD from yielding results helpful for guiding policy. It also summarizes important insights already gained from the ongoing BOND evaluation. In light of these insights and the problems with the POD design, Congress and the public would be better served if the SSA were allowed to invest research funds and management effort elsewhere.

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Aug.28

Getting it Right, or at Least Better: Improving Identification of Food Stamp Participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

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Abstract:

The utility of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) for studying the use and consequences of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is diminished by substantial net under-reporting of both SNAP participation and benefits among survey respondents. This paper compares NHANES-based national SNAP estimates with administrative totals and investigates the pattern of under- and over-reporting of SNAP receipt by NHANES respondents in Texas. Shifting from focus on individual “authorization” to identification of participation using a more broad-based “household” measure reduces net under-reporting in aggregate. The Texas data confirm this gain, but the reduction in actual under-reporting is in part offset by increased over-reporting. Comparison of NHANES results to other national surveys is complicated by differences in the surveys’ definitions of SNAP participation and, especially, by differences between the populations within which SNAP receipt occurs and the populations actually sampled. Strategies for further research and survey development are suggested.

Key words: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, NHANES, SNAP, Under-Reporting

 

Doing Process Analysis Better

Doing Process Analysis Better

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Summary:

Evaluation specifications for social experiments typically include a requirement for a “process analysis” of the intervention in addition to impact measurement and cost-benefit assessment. There is little agreement in the literature concerning what belongs in a process analysis. This report, prepared for the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Office of Program Development and Research in 2012 and revised in 2013, discusses the concept of process analysis, the role of process analysis in three SSA-supported demonstrations, and the use of the term in evaluation guides by various agencies. The end product is a set of guidelines for process analysis. Cast as 10 “steps,” the guidelines are intended for use in two ways. The first is as a checklist for demonstration planners, a response to the question “What are the essential elements of process analysis?” The second is as checklist for demonstration evaluators: What should be there, and is it?

Activation and Reform in the United States: What Time Has Told

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Abstract:

The American “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reform Act” of 1996 (PRWORA) promoted “work over welfare” and included significant work and other activation requirements for adult recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the safety net for poor families with children. Wiseman’s 1999 review of work-related requirements in TANF emphasized that states were still adjusting policy to various requirements of the law and that only “time would tell” what the ultimate consequences might be and what role activation would play. Time has now told. States have developed creative ways to meet the strict federal activation requirements without paying for workfare. Less than 40 percent of the TANF adult work-eligible caseload is “activated”—meaning that benefit receipt is conditional on some self-support incentive or obligation—and only about 12 percent of those persons engage in workfare. At the same time, mostly as a result of states’ efforts, access to the TANF safety net has contracted, inequities in federal support have increased, real benefits have declined, and fiscal responsibility for general social assistance has shifted upward from states to the federal government without significant rationale. States’ strategy of shifting funding from income support to more broadly-targeted services reduced the capacity of the TANF system to respond to the Great Recession of 2007-2009. The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (formerly the Food Stamp Program) now provides what is de facto the national minimum income. Despite TANF’s shortcomings, the Obama administration reasonably chose to focus domestic policy on health care, rather than welfare reform. A national health insurance scheme was introduced in 2010 and gradual implementation is under way despite political opposition.  Little change has occurred in TANF; keeping the program small eases states’ difficulties with achieving required work activity participation rates.  And the highly partisan political struggle over taxes and the federal deficit precludes significant change in TANF outreach or activation requirements.

Suggested citation:
Wiseman, Michael, Anderson, Theresa, and Kairys, Katharine. “Activation in the United States: What Time Has Told.” Manuscript, August 28, 2013.

Misreporting of Food Stamp Participation in a Household Survey: Results from a Single-State Pilot Study of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey NHANES

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Abstract:
Data from household surveys play an essential role in monitoring and assessing the consequences of food assistance programs for the well-being of Americans. Compared to other sources—most notably administrative data—surveys like the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) provide more information on individual and household characteristics such as food security, nutrition, and body weight, and these are characteristics likely to be affected by participation in food assistance programs. Thus, by using survey information on both program participation and household or individual characteristics (and statistical methods for handling non-response), surveys can provide powerful evidence on the impacts of food assistance programs.

The utility of survey data for evaluating food program outcomes is diminished by respondent misreporting of participation in these programs. At least in principle, misreporting issues can be addressed by linking administrative records to household survey data. The potential benefits of such linkage are widely recognized, especially in social policy research. In practice, however, efforts at linkage encounter many problems, but experience is growing, and with gains in experience, more of the potential benefits are being realized.

The Texas NHANES Pilot (TNP) is part of a cooperative effort by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Economic Research Service (ERS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources (RMC) at the University of Texas, Austin to link administrative records from the Food Stamp Program (FSP)1 in Texas to survey records from NHANES. The Ray Marshall Center determined if NHANES participants had records in the Texas food stamp program database under contracts. We conducted this study in one state as a pilot to learn more of what would be required to develop and implement match protocols appropriate to the NHANES should more general effort ever be contemplated. The immediate goals of this venture were to: (a) assess the feasibility of matching records from these disparate sources; (b) evaluate the accuracy of the match process; (c) use the matched data to estimate the prevalence and correlates of misreporting of FSP participation for this one-state subset of NHANES; and (d) assess the likely impacts of matching error on our estimates of misreporting. Ultimately, we sought to obtain information to improve analyses of food assistance programs and policies through more informed use of valuable information gathered during household surveys.

This paper presents results to date from the TNP. Part 1 briefly describes the match process used to link data from food stamp administrative files in Texas to NHANES participants for interviews conducted in Texas for survey cycles 2005 through 2008. Part 2 summarizes the results of that data linkage in terms of how often food stamp participation status as reported in the survey did or did not correspond to food stamp participation status as indicated in the administrative records. Part 3 provides a general discussion of our results. In our larger working paper (available from the authors) we provide more specifics about the linkage algorithm, misreporting using weighted estimates and logistic regressions models, creating a face validity scoring algorithm for sensitivity analyses of the matched results, and lessons learned through this linkage project. This paper serves as a short summary of our work and findings.

It is important to remember that, while the NHANES is designed to produce nationally representative estimates of numerous measures of the health and well-being of the non-institutionalized U.S. population, the results presented herein are based on the sample from one state and cannot be generalized to the U.S. population. The results of this pilot should be interpreted with caution and in light of our objectives.

Suggested citation:
Misreporting of Food Stamp Participation in a Household Survey: Results from a Single-State Pilot Study of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey NHANES” (with John A. Kirlin, Lisa Mirel, and Daniel Schroeder). Unpublished paper presented at the 2012 Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology (FCSM) Research Conference, Washington, D.C., January 10-12, 2012.

Pulling Together: Linking Unemployment Insurance and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Administrative Data to Study Effects of the Great Recession

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Abstract:
Coming soon

Suggested Citation:
“Pulling Together:  Linking Unemployment Insurance and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Administrative Data to Study Effects of the Great Recession” (with Theresa Anderson and John A. Kirlin).  Unpublished paper presented at the 2012 Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology (FCSM) Research Conference , Washington, D.C., January 10-12, 2012.

The SSDI “Benefit Offset” Experiment: Landing the Pilots

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Abstract:
The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program includes transitory incentives that promote the return to work by beneficiaries, but after these incentives end, beneficiaries lose their entire disability benefit for the first dollar earned above a monthly level termed “Substantial Gainful Activity” (SGA). It is widely presumed that this ―cliff‖ restrains employment among beneficiaries. Congress included requirements within the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 for a demonstration project that examines the costs and benefits of replacing (―offsetting‖) the SGA cliff with a more gradual reduction in benefits: the SSDI benefit is to be reduced by $1 for every $2 earnings beyond that threshold. Skeptics questioned the ability of the Social Security Administration to administer such an experiment, and even SSA stakeholders acknowledged that conducting the experiment within the context of regular SSA operations posed substantial design and management challenges. SSA launched a pilot project intended to provide experience with new benefit offset administration procedures as well as with the conduct of a randomized trial of the new program. Volunteers for the experiment were recruited from beneficiaries likely to be in the process of returning to work in order to ensure that the pilot would produce experience administering the new program. However, this target group also poses the most serious cost issues because many of them would return to work even in the absence of the incentive and thus would receive a partial benefit under the new program instead of no benefit under the current program. This paper reviews challenges faced in implementing the pilot and the results. The pilot ―delivered‖: Random assignment was completed successfully and the revised benefits computation system was successfully performed for the treatment group, albeit with some informative missteps. The offset produced an increase in the prevalence of earnings above SGA. However, it also increased benefit payments because the savings generated from increases in employment above SGA were smaller than the costs of partial benefit payments to those who would have worked above SGA under the existing program rules. The outcomes underscore the need for a larger experiment that includes a representative sample of all SSDI beneficiaries. Such an experiment, called the Benefit Offset National Demonstration (BOND), will begin in 2011.

Suggested citation:
Wiseman, Michael, Weathers, Robert, and Hemmeter, Jeffrey. “The SSDI Benefit Offset Experiment: Landing the Pilots.” Paper prepared for the Fall 2010 Conference of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, Boston, MA, November 4-6, 2010.