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Date: Sept. 9, 1999
Contacts: Vanee Vines, Media Relations Associate
David Schneier, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <>


Publication Announcement

Larger Federal Role Needed to Evaluate Welfare Reform
For Clearer Picture of National Impact

Three years after a major overhaul of the federal welfare system, the number of people on welfare has dropped substantially and many former recipients have found work. But a comprehensive national picture of the reform's consequences will not emerge until policy analysts can track a broader cross section of the nation's poor, and obtain high-quality and comparable national and state data on the impact of the new welfare policies, says an interim report from a National Research Council panel. The panel recommended that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) play a larger role in guiding welfare reform research and data collection so that policy-makers have the information they need to assess the reforms.

Convened to examine methods and data for evaluating welfare reform's effects, the panel issued the report to update the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) -- the project's sponsor -- on the progress of the study, and to provide initial recommendations. Later this fall, the panel will release a supplementary report on its 1998 workshop during which study plans to track former welfare recipients in 14 states and counties were discussed. A final report will be published at the end of next year.

To date, many policy-makers and researchers have focused attention on the status of families who have left the rolls since the passage of federal welfare-reform legislation in 1996, the report points out. But while such families' experiences provide useful information about reform's impact, they tell only part of the story.

For a comprehensive picture of how new welfare programs have shaped the lives and decisions of low-income people in general, HHS should sponsor studies of families who choose not to apply for benefits even though they may be eligible, the report says. Studying these families would help determine whether they have not sought benefits because they have found work or because they are trying to support themselves through other means. Given that some states and counties have formal "diversion programs" to discourage individuals from applying for public aid, the agency also should monitor the status of families who have been steered away from cash-assistance benefits. In addition, HHS needs to learn more about families who continue to receive welfare and families who represent persistent, "hard-to-serve" welfare cases. The panel noted that the agency was developing plans to sponsor studies of groups other than those who leave welfare.

The 1996 legislation gave states considerable leeway to design their own programs, but it did not say how states should define, measure, or even report on the effects. As a result, analysts have been hampered in their ability to make nationwide assessments of the new welfare programs or to explain which policies are working and in what context, the panel said. Likewise, researchers are not in a good position to offer Congress guidance on parts of the law that may need to be revised or dropped.

HHS should play a larger role in steering overall research and making sure that adequate data are available to measure changes stemming from welfare reform, the panel said. The agency also should take steps to make data, analyses, and definitions as comparable as possible across and within states. And it should identify key policy questions and data-collection priorities that federal and state officials should focus on over the next three to five years.

In some instances, HHS already has begun work on making data collection more uniform across states and pinpointing key policy issues. Such projects should be expanded, the panel said. HHS also should closely monitor state and county welfare policies and routinely publicize any changes. Although there are some encouraging signs, many larger questions about the consequences of welfare reform -- and whether its overarching goal to promote self-sufficiency is actually being met -- cannot be answered without better information.

The study is being funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A panel roster follows. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit organization that provides advice on science and technology under a congressional charter.

Read the full text of Evaluating Welfare Reform: A Framework and Review of Current Work -- Interim Reportfor free on the Web, as well as more than 1,800 other publications from the National Academies. Printed copies are available for purchase from the National Academy Press Web site or at the mailing address in the letterhead; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information at the letterhead address (contacts listed above).

Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Committee on National Statistics

Panel on Data and Methods for Measuring the Effects of Changes in Social Welfare Programs

Robert A. Moffitt, Ph.D. (chair)
Departments of Economics
Johns Hopkins University

John L. Adams, Ph.D.
RAND Corp.
Santa Monica, Calif.

Thomas Corbett, Ph.D.
Associate Director
Institute for Research on Poverty
University of Wisconsin

John L. Czajka, Ph.D.
Senior Researcher
Mathematica Policy Research Inc.
Washington, D.C.

Kathryn Edin, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Sociology and Population Studies Center
University of Pennsylvania

Irwin Garfinkel, Ph.D.
Mitchell I. Ginsburg Professor of Contemporary Urban Problems
School of Social Work
Columbia University
New York City

Robert M. Goerge, Ph.D.
Associate Director for Research Operations
Chapin Hall Center for Children
University of Chicago

Eric A. Hanushek, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics
Department of Economics
University of Rochester
Rochester, N.Y.

V. Joseph Hotz, Ph.D.
Departments of Economics and Policy Studies
University of California
Los Angeles

Richard Kulka, Ph.D.
Research Vice President of Statistics, Health, and Social Policy
Research Triangle Institute
Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Rebecca A. Maynard, Ph.D.
University Trustee Professor of Education and Social Policy
Graduate School of Education
University of Pennsylvania

Suzanne M. Randolph, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Family Studies
University of Maryland
College Park

Werner Schink, M.A.
Chief of Research and Evaluation Branch
California Department of Social Services


Michele Ver Ploeg, Ph.D.
Study Director