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 The memorandum has not (as of 2016) been rescinded, and the issues raised in the ensuing controversy remain unresolved.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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