This document presents results from the post-time limit tracking study – a survey of former recipients of Temporary Family Assistance (TFA), Connecticut's cash assistance program for needy families with children. The survey targeted individuals from six areas of the state whose TFA benefits were discontinued in late 1997 when they reached the 21-month time limit on cash assistance that was established as part of Connecticut's Jobs First welfare reform initiative. Individuals who were still not receiving TFA approximately three months after their benefits were discontinued were asked to complete a brief telephone interview describing their current situation and key changes that had taken place since they left cash assistance. These same individuals will be interviewed again approximately six months after their benefits were discontinued.
The post-time limit tracking study is being conducted by the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC), with funding from the Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS). MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with more than two decades of experience designing and studying social policy initiatives, is also conducting a full-scale evaluation of Jobs First in two of the six areas that are part of the post-time limit tracking study.
Readers should exercise caution in interpreting the results of the post-time limit tracking study for two main reasons. First, the three-month follow-up period is quite short; much longer follow-up is required to fully understand how families will fare after their welfare benefits are discontinued. Second, although this study explicitly compares families’ situations three months after TFA discontinuance with their situations in the last month in which they received benefits, it is not possible to attribute any changes to the fact that their benefits were discontinued. There is no way to determine how these families would have fared if they had been allowed to continue receiving welfare. MDRC’s full-scale evaluation of Jobs First is comparing the outcomes for Jobs First clients with the outcomes for a randomly selected group of similar clients who are continuing to receive welfare under the prior rules.
In addition, it is important to understand two distinctive features of the Jobs First program. First, owing to the way Jobs First’s time limit is designed and implemented, most of the recipients whose benefits have been discontinued had household income above the welfare payment standard (the maximum grant for their family size) when they reached the time limit. Conversely, most of the recipients with income below the payment standard when they reached the time limit have received extensions of their benefits, and thus are not included in this study. Because of this pattern, one would expect that most of the people targeted for this study were employed at the point their benefits were discontinued.
Second, Jobs First includes an unusually generous financial work incentive: All earned income is disregarded (i.e., not counted) in calculating recipients’ cash grants and Food Stamp benefits, as long as their earned income is below the federal poverty level. This policy allows many working recipients to continue receiving their entire cash grant (typically $543/month for a family of three), along with a substantial Food Stamp allotment. Thus, when comparing the financial status of families before and after benefit discontinuance, it is important to recall that, before they reach the time limit, working recipients typically have much higher total income under Jobs First than they would have had under prior welfare rules.