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The ABC evaluation: Turning the corner: Delaware’s a better chance welfare reform program at four years (Fein et al. 2001)

Review Guidelines

Absence of Conflict of Interest

This study was conducted by staff from Abt Associates, which administers CLEAR. The review of this study was conducted by ICF Incorporated, which also administers CLEAR and is trained in applying the CLEAR causal evidence guidelines.


Fein, D. J., Long, D. A., Behrens, J. M., & Lee, W. S. (2001). The ABC evaluation: Turning the corner: Delaware’s a better chance welfare reform program at four years. Cambridge, MA: Abt Associates.


  • The study's objective was to examine the impact of A Better Chance (ABC) Welfare Reform Program on employment, earnings, and public benefits receipt.
  • The study was a randomized controlled trial that used surveys, administrative data, and program data to compare the outcomes of treatment and control group members.
  • The study found that the treatment group participants had significantly higher rates of employment and lower rates of public benefits receipt when compared to control group participants.
  • This study receives a high evidence rating. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to A Better Chance (ABC) Welfare Reform Program, and not to other factors.

Intervention Examined

A Better Chance (ABC) Welfare Reform Program

Features of the Intervention

In 1995, Delaware launched their new statewide comprehensive welfare reform program, A Better Chance (ABC) Welfare Reform Program. Delaware's purpose in developing the ABC program was to transform welfare from an open-ended entitlement to a transitional program promoting economic self-sufficiency and responsible parenting. As a result, the ABC program brought about fundamental changes in the services, organization, and culture of the welfare system in Delaware. The main goal of the ABC program was to move families from welfare into employment and self-sufficiency. The program sought to get welfare recipients into jobs quickly, support their continued employment by providing childcare, transportation, and other assistance, and facilitate their job advancement. Policies and services to promote employment and engagement in ABC work activities included: 1) a "fill-the-gap" provision which rewarded work and cooperation with child support enforcement; 2) increased childcare funding, and 3) expanded Medicaid coverage for poor working families. Clients not complying with ABC's work requirements faced stiff financial sanctions and placed a lifetime limit on cash assistance receipt. The program was designed to serve low income single-parent families who were welfare recipients.

Features of the Study

The study used a randomized controlled trial where Delaware Social Services (DSS) randomly assigned all recipients and new applicants in five pilot offices to either the treatment or control groups. The total sample included 3,959 single-parent families from the ABC program's first year (October 1995 through September 1996). DSS assigned 2,138 families to the treatment group and 1,821 families to the control group. The treatment group members were fully subject to the ABC program policies. The control group members continued under the traditional Aid to Families with Dependent Children rules. Data sources included background survey data administered at intake, administrative data from automated systems, a client follow-up survey administered by telephone approximately one year after random assignment, and program data obtained from the Workfare service provided. The authors used a statistical model to compare the outcomes of treatment and control group members.


Earnings and wages

  • The study found that the average total earnings for treatment participants were $328 higher than control participants over the first year. However, these differences were not statistically significant.


  • The study found a significant difference in employment rates with higher rates among treatment participants than control participants in the fourth quarter of year one (a difference of 5 percentage points).

Public benefits receipt

  • The study found that control participants were significantly more likely to receive cash assistance than treatment participants in quarter 8 (39 percent vs. 31 percent) and quarter 10 (30 percent vs. 22 percent).
  • The study also found that control participants received significantly more than treatment participants in average total welfare payments, receiving $140 more in year one and $364 more in year two.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

The study authors noted that the programs’ impacts may be understated since participants in the control group may have believed that they were subject to welfare reform based on things they heard in the media or on the streets.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the ABC program, and not to other factors.

Reviewed by CLEAR

July 2022

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