Design, Sites, and Data Sources
Family Rewards Pilot Program
The Family Rewards pilot program served 2,400 families, and an equal number of families were assigned to the control group. Eligible families lived in the selected community districts with incomes at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level and had at least one child in public school in either the fourth, seventh, or ninth grade. These grades were chosen because they reflect critical transition points in students’ school careers. Students who fail to navigate them successfully fall behind their peers and have difficulty recovering, increasing their risk of dropping out, especially in the early high school years.
Seedco assembled a network of six neighborhood partner organizations in the designated community districts to recruit and enroll eligible families. Although the program had no formal case management component, participating families had several avenues — a telephone hotline, a website, and an in-person help desk at the community-based organizations — to get information on services in the community that could help them meet the program conditions (for example, information on where to get homework help for their children, on how to find a doctor, and on where to get help finding jobs and training). In addition, families could also get help opening bank accounts, so that the payments could be transferred electronically and so that they had access to the funds via debit cards.
The evaluation of ONYC: Family Rewards had three major components: an impact analysis, an implementation and process analysis, and a cost analysis:
Impact analysis. This analysis examined the program’s effects on a wide range of outcomes, including children’s school performance; family health care practices and health outcomes; parents’ employment and training outcomes; and family income, benefit receipt, poverty, material hardship, and quality of life.
Implementation and process analysis. This analysis explored the operations of Family Rewards, focusing particularly on the roles and experiences of the implementing institutions (particularly Seedco and its community partners) and on the perceptions and experiences of the participating families.
- Cost analysis. This analysis estimated the cost of operating Family Rewards, distinguishing how much was spent on various aspects of program delivery from the amount of cash transferred to the participating families.
MDRC published a series of evaluation reports on the project from 2010 through 2016. These reports show that participating families received over $8,700, on average, in rewards over the three-year program period, with virtually all families earning some rewards. The amount of money a family received varied according to the number of activities the family completed and compositional factors such as family size and number of high school students in the family. The impact evaluation found that by the end of the study, the program had produced some positive effects on some outcomes but left many other outcomes unchanged. It produced strong reductions in current poverty and material hardship (during the program). It also improved school achievement and graduation rates among a subset of ninth-graders (those who were somewhat more prepared for high school when they entered the study), and improved participants’ receipt of dental care. It had few overall effects on health or employment outcomes and no effects on school achievement among elementary and middle school students. The evaluation also included a special report that used in-depth qualitative interviews to explore families’ experiences with the program, including how families communicated about the educational incentives, and the influence of those incentives on parent-child interactions. Another special report used data from a survey of high school students to examine the program’s effects on how they spent their nonschool time, and on a variety of other behavioral, social, and psychological outcomes.
Work Rewards Pilot Program
A total of 3,987 Section 8 recipients were recruited for the Work Rewards study. Eligibility for the Work Rewards pilot program was limited to voucher holders whose household income was no greater than 130 percent of the federal poverty line. However, eligibility was not limited to particular community districts but extended to voucher holders across New York City. In addition, families with or without children under age 19 were invited to apply.
The program and evaluation design differed depending on the source of the participant’s Section 8 voucher. For holders of a New York City Housing Authority Section 8 voucher, the study tested whether the offer of incentives for sustained full-time employment and for taking up approved education or training programs improved labor market outcomes and other outcomes. Applicants were randomly assigned to a program group that received the offer of incentives or to a control group that did not receive the offer.
Holders of Section 8 vouchers through the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development were randomly assigned to three groups rather than two. One group was offered enrollment in the Department’s Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program operated by a number of community-based organizations located throughout the city, with some additional services. A second group was offered enrollment in FSS and received the additional workforce incentives. The third group was a control group offered neither of these options. Like the Family Rewards evaluation, the Work Rewards study included an implementation analysis and an impact analysis. In addition, a comprehensive benefit-cost analysis was conducted for participants involved in the FSS-related interventions.
The analysis comparing the FSS group with the control group constitutes the first-ever random assignment test of the Family Self-Sufficiency program, the main federal program intended to increase employment and earnings and reduce reliance on government subsidies among Section 8 voucher holders. Overall, the evaluation found little impact on employment or other outcomes among voucher holders who received FSS services alone or the financial incentives alone. However, the combination of FSS plus incentives produced substantial positive effects on employment and earnings over a six-year follow-up period among participants who were not already working when they entered the program. The benefit-cost analysis found substantial net economic gains for this group, although at a net cost to the government’s budget.