Some changes to the existing surveys in order to track health and social welfare program participation are obvious. At the most basic level, questions that ask whether a respondent received AFDC are now obsolete. Other changes will be needed to obtain complete and accurate measures of program participation, benefits, and characteristics that pertain to program eligibility. Some of the kinds of information that will be required that are not covered sufficiently, if at all, in existing surveys are reviewed below (see also Adler, 1996; Carlson, 1996; Harvey, 1996; Zedlewski, 1996, especially Table 4).

Welfare Program Participation And Benefits

Such surveys as the March CPS income supplement and SIPP have for many years provided information about social welfare program participation and benefits. However, more extensive information will be required than in the past to provide a comprehensive picture of the more diverse programs and benefits that now exist. Information will be required on: (1) the type and amount of benefits provided, including not only regular cash payments, but also one-time cash payments, vouchers for such expenses as transportation to work and child care, wage subsidies, and other services (e.g., marriage counseling or pregnancy prevention counseling); (2) who in the household receives the benefits (e.g., only the children may receive some benefits); (3) current work activity, including unpaid jobs, education, and training; (4) duration of benefits, including duration of the current spell and other spells; and (5) whether a household's benefits are temporarily reduced because one or more adults fails to meet the legislated work requirements.

Workshop participants expressed concerns about obtaining accurate reports from recipients of program participation and benefits in the new environment. Recipients of benefits may not even be the best source of information when benefits are provided, not in cash, but in such forms as wage subsidies, vouchers, or services. Indeed, they may not even be aware that they are receiving "welfare" if, for example, their wages are subsidized by TANF funds, especially if they also receive other types of assistance. Also, given the likelihood of greater variation than in the past in program names, benefit types, and other features among and even within states, it may be more difficult to keep survey questionnaires up to date with respect to such variations, which, in turn, may make it more difficult for respondents to provide accurate reports.

Another concern is that survey respondents may not be able to indicate the source of funding for benefits, specifically, whether they are from a TANF block grant or from an independent state program. Since the federal government no longer provides matching funds yet does impose stringent new eligibility criteria, states may have incentives to develop independent programs. For instance, states may choose to assist adults beyond the 5-year time limit or to provide assistance under the TANF block grant to legal immigrants.7

Finally, the need to have information on the length of current and previous spells of program participation presents challenges for surveys. Accurate retrospective information on spell lengths may be difficult to obtain. A longitudinal survey, such as SIPP, can track spells that begin during the period of observation, but it faces the same problem as other surveys of obtaining accurate information on prior spells and spells already in progress when a household respondent is first interviewed.

7  

To receive the entire TANF grant, a state must continue to spend at least 80 percent of its fiscal year 1994 AFDC budget. These state funds must be used either for programs associated with the block grant or to fund certain related state and local programs. How much freedom states will have to use these maintenance-of-effort funds to support programs not funded by the TANF grant is unclear.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement