Martinson, K., & Hendra, R. (2006). The Employment Retention and Advancement project: Results from the Texas ERA site. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. [Texas ERA—Houston]
- The study’s objective was to estimate the impact of pre- and post-employment job supports and intensive case management on welfare recipients’ employment and benefits receipt outcomes after 18 to 24 months. The Houston site was one of three in Texas that participated in the Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) project.
- The authors randomly assigned about 1,800 single-parent participants in Houston’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to either a treatment group, which received ERA services, or a control group, which received standard TANF services. The authors analyzed data from Unemployment Insurance (UI), TANF, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) administrative records.
- The study did not find any statistically significant effects on employment or earnings. However, the study found that treatment group members received, on average, $33 more in TANF benefits in the ninth quarter after random assignment than those in the control group.
- The quality of causal evidence provided in this study 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 ERA program, and not to other factors.
The Employment Retention and Advancement project, Houston
Features of the Intervention
The ERA project was introduced in 1999 as a nationwide exploration of factors that help welfare recipients not only find employment but retain their positions and advance in their careers. Houston was one of 16 sites across the United States to receive funding from the Department of Health and Human Services to implement a program intended to improve welfare recipients’ employment outcomes. (Two other sites in Texas were evaluated separately and are therefore reported separately by CLEAR.)
TANF recipients assigned to the Texas ERA program attended an initial orientation and then a four-day job-search workshop. They then spent four to six weeks searching for jobs. The program assigned those who did not then secure employment to community service or volunteer positions. People who found jobs were eligible for a $200 monthly stipend for up to 12 months if they were employed for at least 30 hours per week, participated in a post-employment “advancement” activity, or left TANF; they could also receive the stipend if they worked 15 hours per week and participated in an education and training activity. The first four months of earnings for people in the program were disregarded when calculating their eligibility for the stipend. Texas ERA staff also helped clients with job-related problems, reemployment assistance, and support in meeting stipend requirements. Program staff made regular employer site visits. Participants were eligible for these services as long as they were eligible for the monthly stipend. Program staff coordinated case management services (including employment assessment, goal setting and career planning, support services, barrier resolution, and job-search assistance) across several partner agencies.
Features of the Study
From March 2001 through December 2002, 1,952 single-parent participants were randomly assigned to the ERA program or Choices program (control group) after TANF eligibility had been confirmed, but before receiving cash assistance. Participants assigned to the ERA program attended a TANF orientation. They then received cash assistance and began participating in ERA activities. Participation in both the ERA and Choices condition was mandatory for 93 percent of those randomly assigned. Participants from two-parent families were also randomly assigned, but with too few two-parent families to report separately on their outcomes, the report excluded them from the analysis.
The authors focused on single-parent participants who were randomly assigned from March 2001 through June 2002 in Houston. They represented 93 percent of the sample randomly assigned for Houston, accounting for a sample of 1,816.
- The study did not find any statistically significant effects on employment or earnings.
- The study found that treatment group members received, on average, $33 more in TANF benefits during the ninth quarter after random assignment, compared with the control group. This finding was statistically significant at the five percent level.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The authors noted that the study compared an experimental program with a long-established, well-developed existing welfare system—Texas Choices—that strengthened and expanded over the course of the study. The strength of the existing program could have weakened the contrast between the services received by the treatment and control groups. In addition, the Houston ERA experienced operational challenges throughout the course of the study and did not implement all aspects of the program to the same extent as the other Texas ERA sites.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence provided in this study is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that any estimated effects are attributable to the ERA program and not to other factors.