The nation’s welfare system is becoming increasingly focused on encouraging recipients to gain, retain, and advance in employment. The work requirements, sanctions for noncompliance, and time limits built into the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program have reinforced the need to help all recipients, including those living with a disability, quickly obtain and maintain competitive employment. Some states had adopted a universal engagement model prior to the creation of TANF in which all recipients are expected to participate in activities that will prepare them for work. Although federal rules don’t include exceptions or modified requirements for TANF recipients living with a disability, states that have adopted a model of universal engagement often permit recipients with personal and family challenges, including those living with a disability, to participate in a broader range of activities or for a reduced number of hours, acknowledging that their participation may not be sufficient to meet federal work requirements (Kauff, Derr, and Pavetti 2004). The reasons for pursuing a universal engagement strategy include: (1) with time limits on the receipt of cash assistance, recipients cannot expect to rely on TANF in the long run; (2) paid employment is the surest path for achieving self-sufficiency for all, including recipients living with a disability; (3) the TANF system has an employment infrastructure in place that can be expanded and adapted to meet the needs of recipients who need more intensive services and employment accommodations; and (4) TANF agencies, like all public agencies, are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide opportunities for recipients living with a disability to benefit from all the programs, services and activities they offer.
Under contract to the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. (MPR) conducted a study of state and local efforts to promote employment among TANF recipients living with a disability. There were two objectives of the study. The first was to provide program administrators with information on innovative strategies to consider as they attempt to assist all families in gaining, retaining, and advancing in employment. To address this objective, MPR produced four briefs that were targeted to program administrators and other practitioners interested in learning more about potentially promising practices to promote sustained employment for TANF recipients living with disabilities. The briefs were based on case studies of nine current initiatives in seven states. The second objective was to outline a future research agenda for advancing the state of the art in helping TANF recipients living with disabilities succeed in the workplace. This report addresses the second objective by describing opportunities to rigorously test the effectiveness of various employment initiatives for this population. It is targeted to federal and state policymakers, other researchers, and foundations interested in program evaluation. Specifically, it addresses two key questions: (1) Which strategies would be most interesting to test and how could programs be designed to support rigorous evaluations of them? (2) Are there existing initiatives that are currently ripe for evaluation and under what conditions would rigorous evaluation be feasible?