How Can You Measure Welfare Program Success? Part 2

How Can You Measure Welfare Program Success? Part 2

How Can You Measure Welfare Program Success?

Part 2

By Erik Randolph

My last blog explained dependency metrics and how they measure the success of welfare programs. However, these metrics are not the complete answer.

By also following people after they leave the system, we can gain a fuller picture of success.

This technique is common for job training programs. In fact, it is a requirement for state and local agencies receiving federal funding per the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, where agencies routinely measure the status and income of persons up to a year after  exiting the job training program. 

Follow-the-person metrics can be used for welfare programs as well, as Kansas and Maine already  demonstrate. 

 

Background on Food Stamp Work Requirements

 When the U.S. economy was recovering from the Great Recession, the states of Kansas and Maine led the nation in reinstating the federal work requirement for “Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents” (ABAWDs).   

The news media generally criticized the governments of Kansas and Maine for reinstating the rule, claiming it was cruel to push ABAWDs off food assistance. Kansas and Maine responded with follow-the-person data. 

Shortly thereafter in 2015—while Barack Obama was still president—the federal Food and Nutrition Service urged all other states to follow the federal law by reinstating the ABAWD rule. However, most states were hesitant to do so, and they continued seeking waivers and exemptions from enforcing it.

Federal law has two work requirements for the food stamp program. There is the general work requirement for persons ages 19 through 59 with notable exceptions, such as being in school half-time, physically or mentally unfit for employment, or caring for a child under six years of age or an incapacitated person. Under the general work requirement, the recipient must register for work or otherwise have good cause if they are not working at least 30 hours per week or enrolled in a job-training or workfare program. 

The second work requirement is specific to ABAWDs. This rule applies to persons ages 18 through 49, unless they are already exempt from the general work requirement or if they are responsible for a child under 18 years of age, or pregnant. Non-exempt ABAWDs cannot receive benefits for more than three months in a 36-month period unless they work for an average of 20 hours per week on a monthly basis or they participate in an approved “employment and training” program. 

States may, and routinely do, waive the ABAWD rule in areas within their state with unemployment over 10 percent, and they have the discretion to exempt up to 15% of persons from the requirement. 

During the Great Recession, Congress suspended the ABAWD rule until September 20, 2010, but many states continued waiving the requirement well into 2017. 

 

Kansas and Maine Break New Ground 

Under the administration of Governor Sam Brownback, Kansas restored the ABAWD rule in October 2013. The Kansas Department for Children and Families, with the help of the state’s Department of Labor, followed the wages of individuals exiting the food stamp program. Departments of labor typically administer unemployment insurance programs that collect wage data. 

According to a report by the Foundation for Government Accountability, Kansas had 28,144 ABAWDs on food stamps in October 2013. One year later, in October 2014, there were 9,193. The following October, the number dropped to 7,601.

The drop in enrollment among this population may be alarming if one assumes these individuals were worse off, as many in the news media did. However, the follow-the-person data showed otherwise. On average, the annual wages of these individuals rose above the poverty line, from $6,703 in December 2013 to $13,304 in the fourth quarter of 2014. 

 

Maine had a similar experience.

No longer requesting an ABAWD waiver in 2014, the Maine Departments of Labor and Health & Human Services cooperated in following the wages of the 6,866 who did not comply with the reinstatement of the work requirement and exited the program. The Governor’s Office of Policy and Management under the political leadership of Governor Paul LePage analyzed the wage data. Its report showed total wages for this group more than doubled from the third quarter of 2014 to the fourth quarter in 2015. On average, quarterly wages increased from $1,984 to $3,514, also raising the wages of many ABAWDs above the poverty level. 

 

 

What Follow-the-Person Metrics Could Mean for Georgia and Other States

Unfortunately, both Kansas and Maine abandoned the follow-the-person data collection—not for policy reasons related to the effectiveness of the metrics but because of changes in political leadership.

Nevertheless, the states demonstrated that follow-the-person metrics can be applied to welfare programs in addition to job training programs. There is no good reason why Georgia and other states could not also implement follow-the-person metrics for welfare programs by having their welfare agencies cooperate with their departments of labor.

Additionally, states are not limited to using department of labor wage data. They could also initiate surveys to collect more detailed data on the well-being of individuals after exiting a program. 

Do you think it would be good for Georgia to begin using dependency and follow-the-person metrics to measure the success of welfare programs? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Erik Randolph is Director of Research at the Georgia Center for Opportunity. This blog reflects his opinion and not necessarily that of the Georgia Center for Opportunity.

DISINCENTIVES FOR WORK AND MARRIAGE IN GEORGIA’S WELFARE SYSTEM

Based on the most recent 2015 data, this report provides an in-depth look at the welfare cliffs across the state of Georgia. A computer model was created to demonstrate how welfare programs, alone or in combination with other programs, create multiple welfare cliffs for recipients that punish work. In addition to covering a dozen programs – more than any previous model – the tool used to produce the following report allows users to see how the welfare cliff affects individuals and families with very specific characteristics, including the age and sex of the parent, number of children, age of children, income, and other variables. Welfare reform conversations often lack a complete understanding of just how means-tested programs actually inflict harm on some of the neediest within our state’s communities.

How Can You Measure Welfare Program Success? Part 1

How Can You Measure Welfare Program Success? Part 1

How Can You Measure Welfare Program Success?

Part 1

By Erik Randolph

If you want to know how well welfare programs work, ask welfare agency administrators how they measure success. This was suggested by Randy Hicks, President and CEO of the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO), years ago. Almost invariably these administrators will answer that they measure success by how many people they serve. When the total number of people they serve goes up, the programs are more successful. Or are they?

To the contrary, program participation does not measure success. Furthermore, the chances are that welfare agency administrators lack the metrics to tell us how successful the programs truly are.

Program participation can measure demand for the program, or it might indicate the number of people in need. In these cases, program participation is useful information. But does it actually measure success? 

The more important goal of welfare programs is to help people overcome their financial difficulties and escape poverty. This enables them to live more fulfilling lives. Public policy should not encourage them to languish on assistance for years on end but rather help them improve their circumstances until they no longer need assistance, or their reliance on assistance becomes lessened. Welfare agencies generally lack metrics to effectively measure this important goal.

Which revises our original question slightly: How can you measure success?

Dependency Metrics

One potential way to measure success is to use dependency metrics that evaluate the percent of the population who are dependent on major welfare programs. This is partially done at the federal level but not at all at the state level.

In 1994, Congress passed the Welfare Indicators Act. It focuses on food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash grants, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Every year, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services is required to file a report with Congress showing dependency on those three welfare programs.

The most recent report was released in 2018. The pie chart below comes from page eight of that report, showing for the year 2015 the percentages of the national population according to their proportion of their total income dependent on the value of food stamps, TANF cash grants, and SSI. The higher the proportion of an individual’s income that comes from these three assistance programs, the worse off the person probably is. For example, if the value of food stamps constitutes more than 50 percent of an individual’s income, that person cannot be well off financially. In comparison, when food stamps constitute 25 percent to 50 percent of an individual’s income, it means the person has more additional income and is better off than when food stamps comprise more than 50 percent  of total income. And having less than 25 percent of total income coming from food stamps is better than having 25 percent to 50 percent of total income on food stamps.

Georgia has the ability to generate dependency metrics through the Georgia Gateway, including TANF cash grants, food stamps, medical assistance, and two other programs. These are means-tested programs, meaning the Department of Human Services has not only participation numbers but also income information of the applicants and recipients. The Department could relatively easily have its I.T. crew write scripts to spit out reports periodically showing the number of individuals and families by dependency on their income on those programs captured through the Gateway. Coupled with Census data, the Department could produce periodic reports showing how dependency changes over time and further break down the data by demographic groups. 

Furthermore, because every individual has a unique identifier, the I.T. crew could produce additional scripts to follow people over time. This would allow for more sophisticated analytics showing the financial progress of people and families in the system. 

Dependency metrics are not perfect. They do not capture persons who would be eligible for the program but do not participate. However, the number of these individuals are regularly estimated and could be presented as additional information in the analysis. 

Ideally, it would be best if the dependency metrics captured all assistance programs. Currently, this is not possible.

Assistance Programs Breakdown

Exactly How Many Programs Do People Benefit From? 

Often people qualify for multiple assistance programs. Their children might be on Medicaid and receiving free school lunches. At the same time, the household may be receiving food stamps. Additionally, if the parent or parents work, they may be receiving the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Additional Child Tax Credit. We just listed five programs that welfare families typically receive. 

And there are more programs. If the family has young children under five, they could receive food packages from the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. Additionally, the family may be receiving childcare assistance, Section 8 rental assistance, and/or energy assistance.

Now you might think that we have a dataset somewhere telling us the total number of welfare programs families are benefiting from. If you assumed that we do, you would be wrong. No such dataset exists.

The reason? First, the welfare system is disjointed. There is no single agency or dataset that can tell us the total number of programs people are on. Even Georgia’s award winning Gateway, which is one of the better integrated eligibility systems in the country, cannot tell you. While the Gateway can tell us about food stamps, Medicaid, WIC, TANF, and subsidized childcare services, it is missing the refundable tax credits, free school lunches breakfasts, Section 8 rental assistance, and other welfare programs not listed. 

Second, statistical sources do not include all welfare programs in their questionnaires and have other limitations, such as serious time lags. For example, the American Community Survey asks about food stamps, Medicaid, and Supplemental Security Income but practically none of the other programs, making a statistical inference for the complete picture impossible. 

The Survey of Income and Program Participation gets us closer, giving us childcare assistance, WIC, energy assistance, and public housing, among others. However, it is still missing the refundable tax credits, including the EITC which is one of the big three welfare programs. Worse, SIPP is structured for longitudinal studies that makes the survey totally impractical for monitoring program participation on a regular and timely basis.

Adopting Dependency Metrics in Georgia

Dependency metrics would improve our ability to measure success, and state leaders should consider implementing them in Georgia. 

Georgia would do a better job than the federal government with dependency metrics. The Gateway houses the data for critical programs, enabling Georgia to produce monthly estimates, more timely estimates, and for more programs. In contrast, the Feds apparently cannot meet its obligation in producing annual reports, provides only national data for only three programs, and there are significant time lags. The most recent Federal report came out on May 4, 2018, with 2015 and some 2016 data.

Once implemented at the state level, dependency metrics will improve over time. If and when further integration, consolidation, and streamlining of eligibility systems occur, as recommended by GCO, dependency metrics will become more complete and more useful.

However, they are not the sole answer. There is another way to measure success that would complement well dependency metrics. This will be the topic of my next blog.

In the meantime, do you have ideas on how we can measure success in welfare programs? We would love to hear them. Be sure to put them down in the comments below.

Erik Randolph is Director of Research at the Georgia Center for Opportunity. This blog reflects his opinion and not necessarily that of the Georgia Center for Opportunity.

DISINCENTIVES FOR WORK AND MARRIAGE IN GEORGIA’S WELFARE SYSTEM

Based on the most recent 2015 data, this report provides an in-depth look at the welfare cliffs across the state of Georgia. A computer model was created to demonstrate how welfare programs, alone or in combination with other programs, create multiple welfare cliffs for recipients that punish work. In addition to covering a dozen programs – more than any previous model – the tool used to produce the following report allows users to see how the welfare cliff affects individuals and families with very specific characteristics, including the age and sex of the parent, number of children, age of children, income, and other variables. Welfare reform conversations often lack a complete understanding of just how means-tested programs actually inflict harm on some of the neediest within our state’s communities.

GCO welcomes Jace Brooks as Director of the Gwinnett Workforce Initiative

GCO welcomes Jace Brooks as Director of the Gwinnett Workforce Initiative

GCO welcomes Jace Brooks as Director of the

Gwinnett Workforce Initiative

March 2020 changed everything for Jace Brooks, as it did for so many Americans.

As a member of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners, Jace had worked for years to bring together nonprofits with government resources in the human-services area. All of these efforts went into overdrive when the first case of COVID-19 arrived in Gwinnett County. 

 

The global pandemic was no longer an abstract concept in the news—it was in our backyards impacting our neighbors. In a matter of months, Gwinnett County’s remarkable 2.4 percent unemployment rate spiked to 12.5 percent. Tens of thousands of residents were out of work, many of them homeless.

That’s when the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) approached Jace about joining the team as a contractor to aid workforce development efforts in Gwinnett County. Initially, Jace worked to assemble a handful of service providers, nonprofits, schools, and employers to help the county’s struggling workers find stable work again. Those partnerships blossomed to over 25 organizations, companies, and schools, including Goodwill, Families First, Georgia Gwinnett College, the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, the public library system, Impact46, and the Community Foundation for Northeast Georgia.

 

The need hasn’t let up. In fact, it’s only growing, even as Gwinnett County rebounds from the economic shocks experienced in the spring. That is why GCO decided to bring on Jace full-time as our new Director of the Gwinnett Workforce Initiative.

“I have a deep love for Gwinnett County and the entire Atlanta metro region,” Jace says. “That’s been fostered through my service on the Suwanee City Council, the board of commissioners, and through volunteer time at my family’s church, Gwinnett Church. There are so many people struggling out there. I think of the single mom with a couple of kids, just looking for a place to stay or a meal. Through our partners, we can get her connected to all the right resources and move her from crisis to career. That is work so full of meaning, and I couldn’t be more excited to be on board with GCO.”

The Gwinnett Workforce Initiative is part of GCO’s broader effort to link underserved communities with the resources they need to thrive. It’s called Hiring Well, Doing Good (HWDG). This effort is based on the belief that a stable job is key to human flourishing. But it takes a concerted effort to come alongside struggling people to give them the resources, support, and training needed to succeed. And that help best comes from a bottom-up approach through our neighborhoods and communities, not top-down from government.

Op-Ed: It’s time for Georgia to reign in policing for profit

Op-Ed: It’s time for Georgia to reign in policing for profit

Op-Ed: It’s time for Georgia to reign in policing for profit

By Randy Hicks

Much needed conversations are happening in recent weeks across Georgia and our nation on policing reforms. One practical area of reform that can’t fall by the wayside is this: It’s time to break the connection between policing and profit.

What do I mean? Take the case of former Atlanta Hawks’ forward Mike Scott. He was stopped by Banks County police northeast of Atlanta while driving north on I-85 to host a youth basketball summer camp. A judge later reprimanded the police department for racial profiling in the case, and there was strong evidence that police were stopping drivers passing through the county for minor offenses specifically as a way to raise funds.

As a professional athlete with a multi-million-dollar contract, Scott had the resources to take the police department to the mat. But the vast majority of Georgians in the same situation would not. This underscores the fact that poor and minority populations are disproportionately impacted by policing-for-profit schemes.

We must change the way police departments are funded so that enforcement of the law and revenue generation are clearly separate. It goes without saying that courts, government, and police shouldn’t get a penny as a result of enforcing the law. Anything less creates an incentive for corruption.

One area where reform is immediately needed is called civil asset forfeiture. This is when law enforcement takes assets from people suspected of being involved in criminal activity without requiring a conviction. Police agencies may then receive funds from the sale of the forfeited assets. Used correctly, civil asset forfeiture is an important tool to curb illegal activities and dry up the resources of criminals. But the current system lacks transparency and accountability, presenting the opportunity for abuse.

What’s worse, the lack of strong governmental oversight and transparency in our system means that, all too often, a door to discrimination and undue burden is placed on folks who are simply in desperate need of a helping hand to get back on their feet.

My organization, the Georgia Center for Opportunity, has laid out a set of recommendations to shore up the system. We should begin by fostering greater accountability by requiring randomized compliance audits. This will help to ensure that all local law enforcement agencies are accurately reporting instances of civil asset forfeiture.

Updates are also badly needed to the government’s website that houses all civil asset forfeiture reports to make it easier for law enforcement to upload their reports and easier for the public to search and download content.

We could all be victims of these sorts of asset forfeitures, but the impacts are egregious for the poor and minorities.

Imagine being pulled over and your car being confiscated by police. For anyone this would be infuriating, but imagine you are someone in poverty. You likely don’t have access to the same network of friends or family members to help you get to your job. You also likely have less flexibility with your work schedule or working remotely.

The result is that civil asset forfeiture disproportionately targets those lacking the resources to fight for the return of their property. This can also inadvertently result in the types of confrontations we have seen in recent weeks, where tensions unnecessarily escalate to deadly levels.

We believe that civil asset forfeiture reform is crucial to a thriving state. We can do that by ending the profit motive behind the system and by making it much more transparent. It is a key step to create a society where everyone has the opportunity to flourish.

 

This article originally appeared in the Telegraph.

Gov. Kemp signs ‘second chance’ expungement bill into law for ex-offenders

Gov. Kemp signs ‘second chance’ expungement bill into law for ex-offenders

Gov. Kemp signs ‘second chance’ expungement bill into law for ex-offenders

 

 

By David Bass

 

For many Georgians, past criminal conviction can be the most significant hurdle to overcome in getting a job. On this front, there is good news: Gov. Brian Kemp recently signed a bill (SB288) into law that allows formerly incarcerated individuals to petition the court to have certain misdemeanor convictions erased from their record four years after the completion of their sentence. 

 

The new law excludes certain offenses, including sexual offenses and DUIs. In a crucial move, the law also creates incentives for employers to make “second chance” hires.

 

This new law allows for an easier transition back into the workforce for a segment of Georgia’s population that has paid its debt to society and stayed on the straight and narrow.

 

“This new law is monumental because it takes Georgia off the list of only a handful of states where a criminal offense stays on an ex-offender’s record perpetually,” said Buzz Brockway, vice president of policy at Georgia Center for Opportunity. “We know that unemployment is a key way to help ex-offenders not repeat their crimes. Particularly in the COVID-19 era, breaking down any barriers to employment that we can is always a huge win. We applaud Gov. Kemp and the Georgia Legislature for making this law a reality.”

 

Nonprofits face funding shortages, increase demands amid COVID-19 | The Center Square

Nonprofits face funding shortages, increase demands amid COVID-19 | The Center Square

Nonprofits face funding shortages, increase demands amid COVID-19 | The Center Square

 Nonprofit organizations in Georgia are facing higher demands for services but decreases in revenue amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a recent survey found.

According to a June survey by the Georgia Center for Nonprofits (GCN), 90 percent of nonprofit organizations that responded have seen a drop in revenue since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak…

Corey Burres, a spokesman for the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO), an organization aimed at increasing opportunities for Georgians, said many of its partner nonprofits had been in discussions about layoffs and reconstruction.

“The demand for services is going through the roof, while financial support is not keeping pace,” he said. “While most organizations have been able to continue to give to the needs around them, we had one organization share that they have yet to not meet the needs.”

“Older volunteers have been unable or (understandably) unwilling to help out with the risks involved in going out in public,” Burres said.

 

Read the full article here