Evaluating Two Approaches to Case Management

Implementation, Participation Patterns, Costs, and Three-Year Impacts of the Columbus Welfare-to-Work Program

Welfare program case management is usually organized in one of two ways. Under traditional case management, welfare recipients interact with two separate workers: one who deals with welfare eligibility and payment issues, often called income maintenance, and one who deals with employment and training issues. Under integrated case management, welfare recipients work with only one staff member who handles both the income maintenance and employment and training aspects of their case. Although both strategies have certain advantages — for example, the traditional structure allows staff members to specialize in one particular role, and the integrated structure allows staff members to quickly emphasize the importance of employment and eliminates failures in communication between staff members — little information exists on the effects of the two approaches.

This report presents the results of a random assignment study designed to evaluate the two case management approaches, and thus it addresses some longstanding issues in the management of welfare programs. The study was conducted in Columbus (Franklin County), Ohio, as part of the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies (NEWWS Evaluation), a large-scale evaluation of 11 welfare-to-work programs in seven sites across the nation. The evaluation is being conducted by MDRC, under contract to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with support from the U.S. Department of Education For the study, Columbus operated two separate welfare-to-work programs: one that used integrated case management, referred to in this report as the integrated program, and one that used traditional case management, referred to as the traditional program. Apart from the case management difference, the welfare-to-work programs were the same: They required welfare recipients to participate in activities to build their skills and eventually move into the labor market; provided child care and other services to support this participation; and penalized those who did not follow program rules by reducing their cash grant. Participants in the programs were also subject to the same public assistance eligibility and payment system.

This report provides information on how the integrated and traditional programs were implemented, how they affected participation in employment-related activities, and the costs of providing employment-related services in the two programs. It also discusses program effects, measured three years after sample members’ entry into the study, on employment, earnings, and welfare receipt. (The final report in the NEWWS Evaluation will present program effects measured five years after study entry.) To facilitate this assessment, from 1992 to 1994 over 7,000 single-parent welfare applicants and recipients, who were determined to be mandatory for the Columbus welfare-to-work program, were randomly assigned for the evaluation. The study’s rigorous research design allows researchers to determine the effects of each program as well as the relative effects of the programs, thus providing two types of information.

Columbus’s integrated and traditional programs were operated under the Family Support Act (FSA) of 1988. The FSA required states to provide education, employment, and support services to Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) recipients, who were, in turn, required to participate in the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training (JOBS) program created by the act to equip them for work. In 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act replaced AFDC with a block grant program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The law limits most families to five years of federal assistance, offers states financial incentives to run mandatory, work-focused welfare-to-work programs, and requires states to meet relatively high work participation rates or face reductions in their block grant. The 1996 law’s overarching goal is similar to the FSA’s: to foster the economic self-sufficiency of welfare recipients through increased employment and decreased welfare receipt. Columbus began operating its TANF program in October 1997, after the follow-up period covered in this report.

The Findings in Brief

  • Integrated case managers provided more personalized attention than traditional case managers and more closely monitored participation in program activities. More integrated staff than traditional staff said that they tried to learn in depth about the recipients they worked with and provided positive reinforcement to them. Integrated staff received more timely attendance information from service providers and more quickly contacted participants about attendance problems.

  • The integrated program engaged more people in welfare-to-work activities than the traditional program. A higher proportion of recipients in the integrated program attended a JOBS orientation and participated in JOBS activities. This probably reflects integrated staff members’ better participation monitoring and follow-up. Also, recipients in the integrated program may have taken the threat of cash grant reductions for noncompliance more seriously than recipients in the traditional program because integrated case managers could reduce grants themselves rather than relying on an income maintenance worker to do so.

  • Sanctioning rates in the programs were similar and very high. The rate of “initiating” a sanction, however, was higher in the traditional program. Over a third of sample members in each program had their cash grant reduced because of noncompliance with program rules. More recipients in the traditional program, however, had a sanction initiated (the case manager decided that a sanction should be imposed), which means that fewer of those for whom a sanction was initiated in the traditional program actually had their grant reduced. This probably reflects the fact that traditional case managers had to rely on another staff member to impose sanctions, and, because the case managers did not deal with the eligibility aspects of cases, that they probably initiated sanctions for some people who were no longer receiving cash assistance or were no longer mandatory for JOBS.

  • The integrated program had somewhat higher two-year costs for employment-related services than the traditional program. This difference reflects higher expenditures for vocational training and case management. A future benefit-cost analysis will include estimates of the cost of income maintenance services and thus will provide the bottom line on the relative costs of the programs.

  • The Columbus programs increased earnings. Over three years, the integrated and traditional programs boosted average earnings by about $1,000, or 10 percent, relative to the control group average.

  • Both programs reduced welfare receipt and payments, but the effects of the integrated program were somewhat larger. Over the three-year follow-up period, the integrated program reduced time on cash assistance by about 2 1/2 months and reduced three-year welfare expenditures by 15 percent. The traditional program, in comparison, reduced welfare receipt by about 1 2/3 months and reduced expenditures by 11 percent. Integrated case managers more quickly closed cash assistance cases and were better able to detect individuals who should not be receiving welfare than traditional case managers.

  • Neither program increased sample members’ average combined income from earnings, cash assistance, and Food Stamps. Earnings gains did not exceed public assistance decreases (both programs decreased Food Stamp payments).

  • For sample members who did not have a high school diploma or GED when they entered the study, the integrated program produced larger earnings gains and welfare reductions than the traditional program. It is unclear why the integrated program produced larger effects for this subgroup. It may be that the closer monitoring and higher level of personalized attention and encouragement of the integrated approach especially benefited these more disadvantaged recipients.

Overall, the results show that Columbus ran two moderately effective welfare-to-work programs. Both engaged many welfare recipients in education and training, and, over three years, increased their earnings and decreased their welfare receipt. Additional follow-up, to be presented in the evaluation’s final report, will show whether these effects continue in the fourth and fifth years following study entry.

The results also provide evidence that an integrated case management approach can yield additional effects beyond those of a traditional approach — namely, higher participation rates and somewhat larger welfare reductions. It is important to note that Columbus had sufficient program services and an uncommon degree of administrative and clerical support. Integrated case managers found balancing employment services with income maintenance to be demanding even with these supports; without them, they may have found the work to be overwhelming.

Document Details

Publication Type
June 2001
Scrivener, Susan and Johanna Walter. 2001. Evaluating Two Approaches to Case Management. New York: MDRC.