Absence of conflict of interest.
The study’s objective was to examine the effects of the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program, a voluntary program supported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), on participants’ employment, earnings, and receipt of housing subsidies and other public benefits.
The study was a randomized controlled trial that compared the outcomes of individuals randomly assigned to a treatment group eligible to participate in the FSS program versus those of a control group that were excluded from participating in the program for three years after random assignment. Data included administrative data from HUD and quarterly wage records from the National Directory of New Hires (NDNH) over a 2-year period.
The study did not find a statistically significant effect of the FSS program on most outcomes, including whether participants were ever employed or currently employed, total earnings or average monthly income, housing subsidy receipt, or receipt of other public benefits. There was one statistically significant negative finding in the employment domain, with FSS program participants less likely to be employed in all quarters, relative to those in the control group.
The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is moderate because it was based on a randomized controlled trial with unknown attrition for which the authors ensured that the groups being compared were similar before the intervention. This means we are somewhat confident that any estimated effects are attributable to the FSS program and not to other factors.
Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS)
Features of the Intervention
Introduced in 1990, the FSS program is one of the main federal strategies to support employment and foster financial security for recipients of housing choice vouchers (HCV). With funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), FSS programs are typically operated by public housing agencies throughout the country. FSS programs consist of two main components: 1) case management and referrals – FSS case managers work with participants to set self-sufficiency goals and connect them to an array of services in their communities, and 2) a financial incentive – an interest-bearing escrow savings account to incentivize employment and help families build long-term savings. At program enrollment, participants sign a Contract of Participation and complete an Individual Training and Services Plan (ITSP). FSS participation is voluntary and contracts typically last up to five years, with a possible extension up to seven years.
Features of the Study
This study aimed to examine the effectiveness of the FSS program in improving individuals’ and households’ economic well-being. The study was a randomized controlled trial. Individuals were considered eligible for the study if they, as head of household, were receiving assistance under the federal HCV program, were in good standing with the housing authority, and were new to the FSS program. A total of 2,656 eligible households were randomly assigned to the treatment or the control group (exact breakdowns by group are unknown). Those assigned to the treatment group completed a Contract of Participation and became eligible to participate in the FSS program and build escrow. Those in the control group received information about resources and other services in the community but were not eligible to participate in the FSS program for three years after study enrollment. The analysis sample consisted of 2,556 households (1,285 treatment and 1,271 control). The sample was predominantly female (91%). Nearly three-quarters of the sample identified as Black or African American, and slightly more than half were employed at the time of enrollment.
The primary data sources for the study included administrative data from HUD, a survey administered 18 months after the study began, and quarterly wage data from the National Directory of New Hires (NDNH) for two quarters prior to and eight quarters after random assignment. The authors used a statistical model to compare the outcomes of treatment and control group members. The model controlled for differences in sample member characteristics at the time of random assignment.
To represent a variety of contexts within which FSS programs operate, the study included FSS programs operated by 18 housing authorities in seven states.
The study found that FSS program participants were less likely than control group members to be employed in all quarters in the two years following program enrollment (38 percent of the treatment group employed in all quarters vs. 41 percent of the control group). The study did not find any other significant differences in employment outcomes between FSS program participants and the control group.
Earnings and wages
The study found no statistically significant relationship between the FSS program and total earnings over two years or average monthly household income.
Public benefit receipt
The study found no statistically significant relationship between the FSS program and the share of households that received food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or other public benefits, nor between the FSS program and participants’ continued enrollment in the HCV program.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The study randomly assigned 2,656 HCV recipients but excluded from the analysis sample households that voluntarily withdrew from the study, were determined to be ineligible, or were headed by elderly individuals. Because information on how many individuals were originally assigned to the treatment versus control group is not available, sample attrition cannot be calculated. Therefore, the study is not eligible for a high causal evidence rating, the highest rating available. However, the study does demonstrate that the two groups were equivalent before program participation on a range of important baseline characteristics and does control for sample members’ characteristics at the time of random assignment, and, therefore, study analyses that are based on the full impact study sample are eligible for a moderate causal evidence rating. Outcomes assessed using survey data are only available for about 60 percent of the impact sample which could have created differences between the treatment and comparison groups. Consequently, comparisons of outcomes based on survey data receive a low rating.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is moderate because it was a randomized controlled trial with unknown attrition, but the authors ensured that the groups being compared were similar before the intervention. This means we are somewhat confident that any estimated effects would be attributable to the FSS program and not to other factors.