September 18, 1996

Senate Appropriations Committee Sharply Reduces Resources
for Welfare Reform Research and Evaluation

In action last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee significantly reduced the funding for states and HHS for research and evaluations of the efficacy of various approaches to welfare reform. The committee also cut funding for research on the effect of government programs on abused and neglected children and children at risk of child abuse and neglect.

Funding for Research and Evaluation of Welfare Reform Efforts

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act signed into law in August included $15 million per year in mandatory funding specifically for research on welfare reform approaches. The new law revamped the basic safety net program for poor families with children by eliminating AFDC and replacing it with a block grant that gives states substantial flexibility to design and implement their own programs. The authors of the legislation included these new resources for research and evaluation so both state and federal policymakers could learn from state innovation and experimentation and determine which welfare reform approaches were successful at meeting welfare reform goals such as moving parents into jobs, decreasing nonmarital births, and increasing school completion by teen parents. Half of the $15 million was earmarked for states that wished to have their programs rigorously evaluated.

The Appropriations committee eliminated the $15 million in mandatory funding for research and evaluation of welfare reform efforts for fiscal year 1997.

Child Abuse Research

The new welfare law also includes $6 million per year in mandatory funding for a new study of child abuse and neglect. This study was designed to provide important information on how abused and neglected children — and children at risk for abuse and neglect — fare over time, including the effects of various government programs on the lives of these children.

For fiscal year 1997, the committee eliminated the $6 million in mandatory resources to fund the study of children at-risk for child abuse.1

Historic Levels of Funding on Research and Evaluation

Under prior law, funds for research and evaluation of welfare reform initiatives, research on poor families, and research on child welfare came from three different sources. First, the federal and state governments shared in the costs of evaluating welfare reform projects operating under federal waivers. Federal matching funds for these costs was provided on a 50-50 basis through the account that paid for AFDC administrative costs. It is estimated that by 1997, the total cost of these evaluations would have reached about $25 million, with the cost being shared equally between the federal and state governments. The $15 million in mandatory resources included in the welfare law for research and evaluation of welfare reform efforts was meant, in part, to replace the federal funds that will no longer be available through the AFDC program to fund evaluations of welfare reform efforts.

Food Stamp Research Funding Also Cut Sharply

The Agriculture Appropriations bill, signed into law on August 6, cut funding for research related to the Food Stamp Program by 74 percent — reducing funding from the 1996 level of slightly under $12 million to just $3 million in 1997. Funding for research was reduced at the same time that the new welfare law dramatically alters the Food Stamp Program. The new law grants states broad flexibility to change many aspects of the Food Stamp Program including altering the basic benefit structure for families also receiving assistance under the new TANF block grant. The new law also provides substantial waiver authority for the first time in the food stamp program's history. Both of these aspects of the law are expected to lead to state experiments that need careful evaluation. In addition, the new law would limit food stamp receipt to unemployed able-bodied adults not raising children to three months in any three-year period (in some cases, these adults could receive stamps for six months while unemployed in a three-year period). Information will be needed on the impact of that and other changes in the program. Without adequate funding for food stamp research, information on the effectiveness of various state approaches and on the impact of other major program changes will be limited.

In the past, HHS also has received discretionary resources to fund research and evaluations. In FY 1995, HHS received $15 million in discretionary resources for social science research in addition to roughly $6 million for child welfare research and training. (Both of these funding streams were zeroed out in FY 1996.) The social science research funding did not fund evaluations of state welfare reform efforts operating under waiver authority, but instead funded other research projects such as a test of work first alternatives for reducing welfare receipt and moving recipients from welfare to work, demonstration projects that require teen parents to attend school and participate in work activities, projects on responsible fatherhood including the Parents Fair Share project that required low-income noncustodial parents not paying child support to participate in training and employment programs, and the biannual current population survey on child support collection.

Research Resources Available In the New Appropriations Bill

In the FY 1997 Labor-HHS appropriations bill, the Senate committee funds the social science research account at $17 million, with roughly $8 million of this earmarked to fund "family support centers." These family support centers are programs that assist distressed families and the $8 million in funds directed to them would not be available for research and evaluation projects. Thus, only the remaining $9 million would be available to fund research on impacts and effectiveness of state welfare reform efforts, special projects such as Parents Fair Share, and studies on abused and neglected children and children at risk for abuse and neglect. This is substantially less than would have been available both under prior law when welfare reform demonstration evaluations were funded with open-ended AFDC administrative funds and additional research projects were funded through discretionary appropriations and under the new welfare law that provides $21 million a year in mandatory resources for these purposes in addition to whatever discretionary funds are provided for social science research.

The Need for Research and Evaluation Has Increased

While the Appropriations Committee is cutting funds for research and evaluation, the need for research on welfare reform initiatives has become greater. The new welfare law grants states broad flexibility to determine who is eligible for assistance, what type and level of assistance will be provided, how long families can receive aid, and what programs families must participate in as a condition of receiving aid. As states experiment with different approaches, it is important that a coordinated research strategy be in place to ensure that the lessons of these different approaches are understood so state policymakers can make the most informed choices as they continue to innovate.

The new welfare law makes the most significant structural changes in decades to the basic safety net program for poor families with children. Without adequate resources to study the effects of these changes — and the kinds of innovations that work and don't work — policymakers will be severely hindered in their attempt to craft the most effective policies possible to achieve the goals the framers of the new welfare law have set, such as promoting work, increasing school completion among teen parents, and reducing nonmarital births.


1. The committee also reduced child support enforcement technical assistance and research funds by $6 million for FY 1996 and eliminated $6 million in funding for research on abused and neglected children also for FY 1996. The cut in funding for child support enforcement technical assistance and research is particularly important because HHS would have been permitted to "carry over" the unspent resources from this account to 1997. The resources for both the child support enforcement technical assistance and research and for the research on abused and neglected children was only made available in late August when the President signed the welfare legislation into law.