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Vermont Welfare Restructuring Project (WRP), 1997-2002

Project Overview

Vermont Welfare Restructuring Project's time limit triggered a work requirement rather than the termination of cash assistance. The following were key provisions of the program: (1) the scope of mandatory participation in work or work activities or other aspects of the JOBS program was increased to include pregnant women after the first trimester, the temporarily disabled, and pregnant or parenting minors; (2) single-parent recipients without unsubsidized employment or who work less than 75 percent of full-time after 30 months of benefit receipt were required to participate in a grant diversion community service job program -- the rule applied to two-parent families after 15 months; (3) such participation was preceded by 2 months of job search; (4) full-family sanctions were applied to those who failed to comply and do not cooperate with remedial programs; (5) make work pay strategies include liberalized earnings and asset disregards; (6) eligibility for two-parent families was determined by the same rules as for single-parent families; (7) benefits were provided to cover loss of child support income and were extended to non-relative caretakers.

Policy impact questions were: (1) Was self-sufficiency increased according to various measures of employment, earnings and income? (2) Was welfare use reduced according to various measures of the duration and amount of welfare receipt? (3) Was participation in program activities and use of program services increased, according to such measures as attendance at, and completion of, assigned training or employment activities? Questions related to policy impact on family structure and stability, child well-being, and health benefits were also explored.

The evaluation operated state-wide and employed a random assignment experiment that tested separately the impacts of all WRP provisions and WRP provisions without the community service program. Research questions were answered using surveys, administrative data, self-administered questionnaires for staff, focus groups, program documents and published data, on-site observation, and interviews with staff and recipients. The evaluation provided process and impact studies and a cost/benefit analysis.

Background

ACF provided multi-year grants for 23 evaluation projects in 20 States that continued or modified evaluations initiated under welfare reform demonstration. These demonstrations were begun under waivers prior to implementing TANF. Nine States (Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Texas, Vermont and Wisconsin) received funding as Track 1 projects to continue, unchanged or with limited modifications, the evaluations of the welfare reform demonstrations that they had begun operating prior to the implementation of TANF. Thirteen States (California, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina and Virginia) received funding as Track 2 projects to continue, modify or replace evaluations of welfare reform demonstration they had begun operating prior to implementing TANF. Although there was significant variation among the States in the actual policy strategies that they adopted, the policies had common goals related to promoting self-sufficiency. The policies included time limits on assistance, stronger requirements to participate in work or work-related activities, stronger sanctions for non-cooperation, making work pay, and promoting personal responsibility.

Common research questions about impacts included: (1) Was self-sufficiency increased according to various measures of employment, earnings and income? (2) Was welfare use reduced according to various measures of the duration and amount of welfare receipt? (3) Was participation in program activities and use of program services increased, according to such measures as attendance at, and completion of, assigned training or employment activities? Also, most States included policies to improve family stability and child well-being, and these were reflected in their impact research questions. In addition to these impact issues, each evaluation assessed program strategies and problems in implementing and operating welfare reform programs, including such major factors as planning, staffing, training, organizational structure, management and supervision, and application of program rules and delivery of services to clients.

Some projects (particularly Track 2) were limited to process evaluations related to assessing program strategies and problems in implementing and operating welfare reform programs, including such major factors as planning, staffing, training, organizational structure, management and supervision, and application of program rules and delivery of services to clients.

Some examined the breadth of a mix of welfare reform policies related to time limits, stronger work requirements and personal responsibility and their effects on self-sufficiency, welfare receipt and participation in program activities. Meanwhile, others focused on more specific issues such as post-employment services or front-line assessment and placement in job activities where policy choices have devolved to the county level.

Although States varied in particular elements of their design; all States funded under Track 1 used a random assignment experiment to answer impact questions. Under this approach, experimental group cases were subject to welfare reform policies as modified by waiver policy and control group cases were subject to AFDC policies in place prior to welfare reform. Each evaluation also utilized record data, surveys, site observations, staff interviews, and program documents to obtain information about the research population, and completed process, impact and cost-benefit analyses.

All Track 2 projects provided for process analyses on the implementation of welfare reform policies. Some included impact analyses based on either experimental or non-experimental research designs.

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