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nation's safety net. The workshop was funded by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The workshop brought policy analysts together with statistical agency staff to consider the implications of major changes in health and social welfare programs for national household surveys. The workshop was intended to foster a cooperative effort among agencies to identify data needs for program monitoring and assessment in the new program environment and ways in which to adapt household surveys so that they can continue to provide useful data for program purposes.
Through a series of background papers, presentations, and discussions, the workshop participants addressed four broad topics. (The workshop agenda and list of attendees are in Appendix A.) This report summarizes the discussions in each area:
What is changing in health and social welfare programs?
What information is needed?
What are the implications for data collectors?
What statistical and research issues must be addressed?
A number of common themes emerged from the workshop and are highlighted in this report.
Improved coordination between federal program and statistical agencies is essential to ensure the relevance of national household surveys for monitoring and analysis of health and social welfare programs. To this end, Katherine Wallman, the chief statistician of the United States in the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), made a commitment to establish an interagency group under OMB to further examine the adequacy of existing surveys and begin to implement necessary changes. Shortly after the conference, OMB did set up a survey coordination mechanism.
The changes that are occurring in health and social welfare programs require new or modified survey questions on a wide range of topics. Information is needed to track program participation and benefits, estimate program eligibility, and assess program outcomes. In turn, content changes have implications for questionnaire design and testing, training of interviewers, data editing, and other survey procedures.
A comprehensive, regularly updated, accessible database that provides detailed information about program features for states (and localities, where applicable) is essential. Without accurate information on program rules, it will not be possible to use household survey data to accurately estimate program eligibility and participation rates, to develop questions that appropriately reflect program variations, or to assess the quality of survey reports of participation and benefits received.
Validating the accuracy of responses is critical to ensure the continued relevance of survey data. For programs established under PRWORA, even more so than for previous programs, participants may not know or understand what benefits they receive. It will be important to develop approaches for validating survey responses, not only to establish the quality of the survey data for program analysis purposes, but also to suggest ways to improve survey reporting.
Flexibility in developing surveys is also needed to ensure their continued relevance. Features of health and social welfare programs will likely differ across states, and even across localities within a state, much more than they have in the past. Also program features will likely change over