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Evaluating Welfare Reform: A Framework and Review of Current Work
being served and thereby more cognizant of local needs, resources, and concerns. It is also assumed that program devolution is more likely to lead to innovative cost-effective approaches to reducing welfare dependency than a centralized approach. (Not all social welfare programs have experienced such extensive devolution as AFDC/TANF; food stamps, for example, remains largely centralized in design and regulation.)
The PRWORA legislation laid out several reporting requirements to states, including a mandate to produce quarterly reports on a sample of TANF cases, a sample of cases from separate state programs that use federal maintenance of effort funds (SSP-MOE), financial data on TANF and state programs, and an annual report on TANF and SSP-MOE program characteristics. Beyond these reports, the federal government has very little ability to mandate the collection of data or the conduct of research to track the effects of the changes in social welfare programs. However, the lack of a mandate does not mean that it is desirable for DHHS to assume a passive role. On the contrary, there are clear benefits—to the states as well as to the federal government—for the department to be proactive in facilitating the collection of needed data and research for social welfare program analysis.
The federal government has an obvious interest in the availability of data and research results that can provide a nationwide picture of the effects of social welfare program changes. Congress and the administration will require such a picture to make informed decisions about the renewal of PRWORA (which expires at the end of fiscal 2002) and related legislation and to determine if modifications to PRWORA are needed.
Perhaps somewhat less obviously, the states also have a strong interest in producing data and research results that can support state-level policy making not only by analysis of what is happening in a state, but also by analysis of a state's experience in comparison with other states and in comparison to national-level results. Many of the representatives from states and counties receiving ASPE leaver grants who attended the panel's November 1998 workshop expressed the view that governors and state legislators are very interested in evaluations of the policy changes and how the results of these evaluations compare with results from other areas. States have an interest in learning the most cost-effective methods for data collection and analysis of the low-income population, including cross-state (and within-state) comparisons, and in order to meet the federal data reporting requirements. Making cross-state comparisons will require not only an understanding of other states' policies and implementations, but also an understanding of the data, definitions of outcomes, and methods used to make these evaluations. The state interest came across clearly to the panel in the discussions at the November 1998 workshop, as state researchers were eager to share their experiences, listen to the experiences of others, and acquire additional data collection and evaluation skills.
In Chapter 3 we specified some limitations of the current round of leavers