Rural Welfare to Work Strategies Demonstration Evaluation Project, 2000-2008

This multi-year national evaluation project, Rural Welfare-To-Work Strategies Demonstration, was designed to learn how best to help TANF and other low-income rural families move from welfare to work. The evaluation increased information on rural welfare-to-work strategies and lessons about the operational challenges and methods to address them that can be used by State and local TANF agencies and others. During the initial phase of this initiative, 10 States received planning grants and assistance from a Federal technical assistance contractor to develop strategies targeted to serve rural TANF populations. Two state programs, in Illinois (FY 2001) and Nebraska (FY 2002), were selected for the demonstration phase of the project.

The major research questions included: (1) what types and packages of services were provided under the Rural Welfare-to-Work project, and how did they compare with services already available under TANF or other funding? (2) What were the issues and challenges associated with implementing and operating the service packages and policy approaches studied? (3) What were the net impacts of selected approaches under the project on employment and on families' well being? (4) What were the net costs of the programs, and did the programs/benefits outweigh the costs? (5) What strategies should policymakers and program managers consider in designing approaches to improve the efficacy of welfare-to-work strategies for families in rural areas?

The evaluation plan included three primary components: an in-depth process and implementation study, an impact study and a cost-benefit study. Data for the process analysis came primarily from two rounds of site visits. The study identified implementation issues and challenges and provide details on how programs achieve observed results. Follow-up data were collected through surveys and administrative data and used for analysis of participants' activities in the programs and their employment outcomes.

Rigorous impact evaluation, using random-assignment designs were conducted to determine what difference these interventions made in employment and family well-being outcomes. The impact study drew on data from program sponsors, administrative data from human services programs, and baseline and comprehensive survey data collected in follow-up interviews 18, and 30 months after program entry. For each program, the evaluation calculated estimates of net program cost-effectiveness, based on data from the impact study, implementation study, and published research.

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