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Paths to work in rural places: Key findings and lessons from the impact evaluation of the Future Steps rural welfare-to-work program. (Meckstroth 2006)

Absence of conflict of interest: This study was conducted by staff from Mathematica Policy Research, which administers CLEAR. Therefore, the review of this study was conducted by an independent consultant trained in applying the CLEAR causal evidence guidelines.

Citation

Meckstroth, A., Burwick, A., Ponza, M., Marsh, S., Novak, T., Phillips, S., Diaz-Tena, N., & Ng, J. (2006). Paths to work in rural places: Key findings and lessons from the impact evaluation of the Future Steps rural welfare-to-work program. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Highlights

  • The study’s objective was to examine the impact of the Future Steps rural welfare-to-work program on earnings and public benefit receipt.
  • The authors randomly assigned Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Food Stamps recipients required to work to either a treatment group, which received earnings-focused case management, job search, and other services, or to a control group, which did not receive services. The authors evaluated the treatment’s impact using Illinois administrative data and follow-up surveys.
  • The study did not find any statistically significant effects on earnings or public benefit receipt in the first 18 months after participants were offered access to the program.
  • 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 would be confident that any estimated effects would be attributable to the Future Steps rural welfare-to-work program and not to other factors. However, the study did not find statistically significant effects.

Intervention Examined

The Future Steps Rural Welfare-to-Work Program

Features of the Intervention

Treatment group members received earnings-focused case management services, including (1) an assessment of skills and interests; (2) individualized job search, job placement, and skills enhancement programs; (3) referrals, supportive service payments (up to $500), and mentoring to overcome personal and logistical obstacles; and (4) extended post-program support up to three months after securing a job. Some clients in the treatment group were volunteers, but others were required to participate or face a reduction in their TANF or Food Stamps benefits.

Features of the Study

Starting in 2001, the authors randomly assigned 630 low-income workers in rural, southern Illinois to the treatment or the control group in even proportions. Some sample members were TANF and Food Stamp recipients required to work to remain eligible for benefits; others were low-income volunteers willing and able to work 30 hours per week. Members of the treatment group participated in the Future Steps program, whereas members of the control group did not but could continue to receive benefits and other services as usual.

The authors estimated the effect of the program by comparing the average outcomes from participant surveys and Illinois administrative data among a group of study participants randomly selected to participate in the program and among a group randomly selected as a control, after adjusting for chance differences between the groups before the intervention.

Findings

  • The study did not find any statistically significant effects on earnings or public benefit receipt in the first 18 months after participants were offered access to the program.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

This was the first in a series of reports on this evaluation of the Future Steps rural welfare-to-work program. Subsequent reports provided information on the program’s longer-term effects.

The authors noted the estimated impact might understate the effect of programs modeled on Future Steps because many treatment group members received few or insufficient services through the program and Future Steps did not capitalize effectively on the local community college’s resources.

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 would be confident that any estimated effects would be attributable to the Future Steps rural welfare-to-work program and not to other factors. However, the study did not find statistically significant effects.

Reviewed by CLEAR

September 2016

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