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Evaluation of the Welfare to Work Voucher program: Report to Congress. (Patterson et al 2004)

Citation

Patterson, R., Wood, M., Lam, K., Patrabansh, S., Mills, G., Sullivan, S., . . . Zandniapour, L. (2004). Evaluation of the Welfare to Work Voucher program: Report to Congress. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Highlights

  • The study’s objective was to examine the impact of the Welfare-to-Work housing voucher on employment, earnings, and public benefit receipt.
  • The authors allocated the available vouchers by lottery to eligible families who were willing to participate in the study. Using Unemployment Insurance (UI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and housing assistance administrative data, as well as baseline and follow-up surveys, the authors compared the outcomes of those randomly assigned to receive a voucher to outcomes of those who were not, adjusting for chance pre-intervention differences between the groups.
  • The authors found that the Welfare-to-Work vouchers reduced the total number of quarters employed in the first five quarters after random assignment by 0.165 quarters, on average. In the first five quarters, the program reduced total earnings by $325, on average. At the same time, the voucher program decreased the average likelihood of receiving TANF by 1.8 percentage points.
  • 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 Welfare-to-Work Voucher program and not to other factors.

Intervention Examined

The Welfare-to-Work Voucher Program

Features of the Intervention

The Welfare-to-Work Voucher program aimed to provide low-income families in six study sites with housing assistance to help them successfully transition from welfare to work. Participants received rental assistance vouchers that could be used to rent any unit in the private rental market as long as it met U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development standards and was priced similarly to unassisted units in the same market. Housing agencies could terminate rental assistance if clients did not participate in required work or training activities.

Features of the Study

The authors allocated the available vouchers by lottery to eligible families who were willing to participate in the study. Using UI, TANF, and housing assistance administrative data, as well as baseline and follow-up surveys, the authors compared the outcomes of those randomly assigned to receive a voucher to outcomes of those who were not, adjusting for chance pre-intervention differences between the groups.

A total of 8,731 families were randomly assigned into treatment or control groups across six sites. The evaluation had access to administrative data on TANF receipt and benefits amount outcomes for all six sites. The authors assessed outcomes based on UI administrative data.

Study Sites

  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • Augusta, Georgia
  • Fresno, California
  • Houston, Texas
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Spokane, Washington

Findings

  • The study found that the Welfare-to-Work vouchers reduced the total number of quarters employed in the first five quarters after random assignment by 0.165 quarters, on average.
  • In the first five quarters, the program reduced total earnings by $325.
  • The voucher decreased the average likelihood of receiving TANF by 1.8 percentage points.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

The study authors estimated multiple related impacts on outcomes related to public benefit receipt. Performing multiple statistical tests on related outcomes makes it more likely that some impacts will be found statistically significant purely by chance and not because they reflect program effectiveness. The authors did not perform statistical adjustments to account for the multiple tests, so the number of statistically significant findings in these domains is likely to be overstated.

The study also reported unfavorable findings (higher Food Stamps receipt) for a subgroup of sites, but data on this outcome were not available for the full group.

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 Welfare-to-Work Voucher program, and not to other factors.

Reviewed by CLEAR

December 2016

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