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Evaluating Welfare Reform in an Era of Transition
programs in operation between 1996 and the present. The state plans provided to ACF and summarized by the joint effort between ACF, Welfare Information Network, American Public Human Services Association, and National Governors Association (discussed in Chapter 2) will eventually be available every other year. The State Policy Document Project only covers programs in effect at one point in time, thus far.
Another weakness of many of these efforts is their coverage of all programs and rules. It is not at all clear that data submitted to the federal government will be detailed enough in every state and consistently reported across states to comprehensively cover all TANF and other state welfare programs, since there are few detailed requirements of what states have to report. Again, the Urban Institute’s database is probably the best source of detailed data, but it does not include information about other related non-TANF program rules. Other data collection efforts provide some needed information, but these efforts do not comprehensively cover all programs. Thus, evaluations that depend on full descriptions of TANF and non-TANF program rules (such as time-series modeling, comparison group modeling, and cross-state policy and timing variation models) will have a difficult time controlling for all the policies that may affect individuals in the study, and thereby, isolating the effects of specific policies. A further limitation of these data is caused by the changes in the ways agencies have actually implemented their policies. None of these sources of program description data collect detailed information on program implementation (see below).
A key issue for the collection of program description data is whether efforts like the Urban Institute’s can be sustained. There are positive signs in this direction as ACF funded the 2000 round of the rules update, and plans for future rounds are now set. However these data need to be continually updated and expanded to cover other related programs. Data collection of program rules, in a sufficiently comprehensive, detailed, and consistent manner across states, should be an institutionalized component of DHHS’s duties for administering social welfare programs. This work requires the institutional commitment of a government agency to ensure that the data are collected and provided to users in a readily usable form.
Recommendation 5.11 The monitoring and documentation of the actual policies, programs, and implementations of welfare reform at the state and local levels by the federal government has been minimally adequate to date. The panel recommends that the Department of Health and Human Services take active and direct responsibility for documenting and publishing welfare program rules and policies in every state and in every substate area where needed. Continuing updates documenting changes in state and local area rules should also be produced.