Welfare Reform:

Information on Former Recipients' Status

HEHS-99-48: Published: Apr 28, 1999. Publicly Released: May 26, 1999.

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Cynthia Maher Fagnoni
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on families no longer receiving welfare, focusing on: (1) the extent to which states have reported information on the condition of families who have left welfare in the following key areas: (a) economic status; (b) family composition; and (c) family and child well-being; (2) generalizable state studies on what is known about the status of former welfare families in the key areas; and (3) federal and state efforts to improve the usefulness of the data obtained through these state efforts.

GAO noted that: (1) 17 states have published information on the status of their families who have left welfare; (2) each of these states reported on the economic status of former welfare recipients, and the majority reported on family composition and family and child well-being; (3) the studies differed in important ways, including the categories of families studied, geographic scope, the time during which families who had left welfare were tracked, and the extent to which the families for whom data were available are representative of all families in the sample; (4) taking these factors into account, GAO determined that studies from only 7 of the 17 states had enough information on a sample of families to generalize findings to most families who had left welfare in the state at the time of the study; (5) these seven states' studies reported that most of the adults in families remaining off the welfare rolls were employed at some time after leaving welfare, but significant numbers of families also returned to the rolls; (6) in the three studies that reported the information, from 19 to 30 percent of the families who left welfare returned to the rolls at some time during the follow-up period; (7) although the seven states' studies generally had limited data on total household income, five reported that many families who had left welfare subsequently received noncash public assistance, such as Medicaid and food stamps, indicating that families' incomes were low enough to keep them eligible for these forms of government assistance; (8) none of the studies reported on changes in family composition resulting from marriage or pregnancy after leaving welfare; (9) regarding measures of well-being, six states' studies included data on homelessness or separation of children from their parents and reported no indication of increased incidence of these outcomes at the time of the followup; (10) efforts are under way at both the federal and state levels to improve the usefulness of the data being collected to assess the status of former welfare families; (11) most states either are studying or plan to study former welfare families, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has recently funded 14 projects to track and monitor families who have left welfare; (12) these projects will receive technical assistance through HHS and from other states on developing their tracking efforts; and (13) in the future, these ongoing state efforts, many supported by HHS, should provide a more complete picture of the status of families who have left welfare.

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