The WRP created a work requirement and provided financial incentives to work for single parents and two-parent families with a disabled or unemployed parent receiving cash assistance. This evaluation directly compared the WRP with a separate intervention, WRP Incentives Only, to better understand which of the two interventions might be more effective; the distinctive feature of the WRP was the work requirement.

The WRP created a work requirement and provided financial incentives to work for single parents and two-parent families with a disabled or unemployed parent receiving cash assistance. This evaluation directly compared the WRP with a separate intervention, WRP Incentives Only, to better understand which of the two interventions might be more effective; the distinctive feature of the WRP was the work requirement.

The WRP was one of the demonstration projects made possible by Section 1115 waivers to the rules in effect at the time for the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. These Section 1115 waivers allowed states to test new approaches to advance the objectives of the AFDC program.

The WRP placed work requirements on parents after 15 months (for two-parent families with an unemployed parent) or 30 months (for single-parent families and two-parent families with a disabled parent) of receiving cash assistance. Immediately upon enrolling in the WRP, two-parent families with an unemployed parent were enrolled in Reach Up (Vermont’s voluntary welfare-to-work program), through which they received case management and participated in job search activities. The WRP placed these participants in subsidized minimum-wage community service employment (CSE) if they were unemployed after receiving cash assistance for 15 months.

If single parents and two-parent families with a disabled parent did not obtain unsubsidized employment on their own within 28 months of receiving cash assistance, the primary earner parent was required to participate in job search activities. If that parent remained unemployed after receiving cash assistance for 30 months, he or she was placed in subsidized CSE. The WRP also provided financial incentives to work. For example, the WRP allowed participants to earn more and have more of certain assets without losing eligibility for assistance. All participants were subject to these rule changes upon entry into the WRP. Families that transitioned from welfare to work were eligible for expanded support from Medicaid and transitional child care assistance. If participants did not comply with the work requirement, the state limited their use of the cash assistance grant and required the primary earner parent to attend meetings at the welfare office. The WRP did not place a time limit on receipt of cash assistance. Cash assistance applicants and current recipients were eligible for the WRP. While the WRP program was implemented in all 12 of Vermont's welfare districts, the study focused on 6 of these regions in Vermont.

The effectiveness of the WRP when compared with WRP Incentives Only indicates the effect of being referred to the services that are unique to the WRP or how much better the offer of the WRP meets participants’ needs than WRP Incentives Only. All the financial incentives to encourage and reward work implemented under the WRP also applied to WRP Incentives Only participants. Although the WRP placed work requirements on participants after 15 or 30 months, no WRP Incentives Only participants faced work requirements. The evaluation comparing the WRP with WRP Incentives Only also tested the effectiveness of the WRP and WRP Incentives Only compared with usual services.

Year evaluation began: 1994
Populations and employment barriers: Cash assistance recipients, Parents
Intervention services: Case management, Health services, Sanctions, Supportive services, Training, Subsidized employment, Work experience, Work readiness activities, Job search assistance, Job development/job placement
Setting(s): Tested in multiple settings

Effectiveness Rating and Effect By Outcome Domain

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Outcome domain Term Effectiveness rating Effect in 2018 dollars and percentages Effect in standard deviations Sample size
Increase earnings Short-term Little evidence to assess support favorable $397 per year 0.02 5676
Long-term Supported favorable $774 per year 0.04 9724
Very long-term Supported favorable $586 per year 0.03 0
Increase employment Short-term Little evidence to assess support favorable 3% (in percentage points) 0.07 5676
Long-term Supported favorable 4% (in percentage points) 0.10 9724
Very long-term Supported favorable 2% (in percentage points) 0.05 9724
Decrease benefit receipt Short-term Supported favorable $-138 per year -0.05 5676
Long-term Little evidence to assess support unfavorable $39 per year 0.01 9724
Very long-term Supported favorable $-58 per year -0.02 0
Increase education and training All measurement periods No evidence to assess support

Sample Characteristics

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State or region: Vermont

Implementation Details

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Dates covered by study

The WRP provided services to participants from July 1994 to June 2001. The study randomly assigned cash assistance applicants and existing recipients from July 1995 to December 1996. Participant impacts were measured for six years after random assignment.

Organizations implementing intervention

The Vermont Department of Social Welfare (DSW), later called the Department of Prevention, Assistance, Transition, and Health Access, implemented the WRP.

Populations served

The WRP served single- and two-parent families applying for or receiving cash assistance welfare. Participation was mandatory.

Of participants in single-parent families, 93 percent were female, and the average age was 31. Seventy-three percent held high school diplomas or GEDs. Of the single-parent families, 89 percent had at least one child younger than age 13, and 37 percent had a child younger than age 3.

The study did not discuss the overall demographic statistics of two-parent families. However, it did present statistics for two-parent families with a disabled parent, which show that the parents in 87 percent of such families were married. Of two-parent families with a disabled parent, 83 percent had at least one child younger than age 13, and 30 percent had a child younger than age 3.

Description of services implemented

The WRP was created under the federal Section 1115 waivers to test new approaches to achieving AFDC’s goals. The WRP aimed to encourage work and increase self-sufficiency for individuals receiving cash assistance welfare through financial incentives and work requirements. Both single-parent and two-parent families were eligible for cash assistance regardless of their recent work history. Unmarried families that lived and had a child together were treated as a family unit. The WRP did not have a time limit for cash assistance, and participants’ cash assistance was not reduced or denied if they did not comply.

The WRP’s financial incentives applied to both the participants in the WRP and the comparison group participants in WRP Incentives Only. Financial incentives included the following:

  • Enhanced earnings disregard: The first $150 of a participant’s earnings, plus 25 percent of remaining earnings, was not considered in determining benefit eligibility.

  • Asset limits: Participants could own a car of any value without it counting toward asset limits that might make a family ineligible for benefits, which allowed participants the opportunity to have reliable transportation.

  • Child support: Custodian parents received the full child support payments, rather than receiving only the first $50 a month and the state keeping the remainder. Payments less than $50 were not counted as income so were not counted against their cash assistance benefits.

  • Medicaid: Participants received transitional Medicaid coverage for three years and child care subsidies for one year if their family income did not exceed 80 percent of the Vermont median income.

The WRP’s work requirements applied only to participants in the WRP but not to participants in WRP Incentives Only. Work requirements for the WRP group only included the following:

  • Single-parent family requirements: The WRP required single-parent families receiving cash assistance for 30 months to work; however, participants with children younger than age 13 only had to work part time. At 28 months of receiving cash assistance, single-parent families were required to participate in Reach Up, Vermont’s welfare-to-work program. Reach Up participants attended job search classes once or twice a week for eight weeks and received case management.

  • Two-parent family requirements: The WRP required two-parent families with able-bodied adults to participate in Reach Up immediately and to search for and accept employment. At 15 months of receiving cash assistance, two-parent families were required to work full time. The WRP required two-parent families with a disabled parent to follow the same work requirements as single-parent families.

  • Community service employment: Participants in Reach Up who were not able to find unsubsidized employment were placed in minimum-wage CSE. Reach Up placed participants in CSE for 10 months before placing them in another CSE if they did not find unsubsidized employment.

  • Additional policies for noncompliance: Participants who did not work in unsubsidized employment or a CSE were required to attend three meetings in the welfare assistance office each month. The state did not close participants’ cases but instead used their cash assistance grant to pay their bills.

Challenges. Confirming whether participants were working once required was a challenge because participants’ employment was often dynamic.

Service intensity

The WRP did not impose time limits on participants’ cash assistance receipt for either group. Single-parent families in the WRP group were required to attend two months of Reach Up job search classes, and two-parent families were required to participate in Reach Up activities and search for jobs immediately after receiving cash assistance. Each CSE placement was 10 months, with no maximum number of CSE placements.

Single-parent families received 29 months of cash assistance on average over a six-year period. Fifty-five percent of single-parent families in the WRP participated in an employment-related activity, including education and training, in the six-year follow-up period, which was about 11 percent more than in the WRP Incentives Only comparison group.

Comparison conditions

As noted above, individuals who were randomly assigned to the WRP Incentives Only comparison group received the same financial incentives for work as the WRP group but were not subject to the work requirements.

Two-parent families with able-bodied adults in the WRP Incentives Only group were required to participate in Reach Up, Vermont’s welfare-to-work program, immediately. The primary earner was required to search for and accept employment.

Partnerships

The Vermont Department of Employment and Training (DET) operated Reach Up job search classes, developed CSE positions, and placed participants in CSE positions.

Staffing

Eligibility specialists and family services case managers provided services at DSW. Staff at DET provided Reach Up services. The study authors did not include information on the number of staff or their training, degrees, or certifications.

Local context

While the program was implemented in all 12 of Vermont’s welfare districts, the study focused on 6 of these regions. The welfare districts in the study included about two-thirds of Vermont’s cash assistance caseload.

Fidelity measures

The study did not discuss any tools to measure fidelity to the intervention model.

Funding source

DSW and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services funded the intervention, with DSW funding case management and local providers funding employment and training services.

Cost information

Providing the WRP’s incentives led to a greater cost for the government compared to benefits for participants. Single-parent families gained about $130, and the government lost about $300 (in 2000 dollars) over the six-year follow up period. However, work requirements, in addition to incentives alone, yielded benefits. Single-parent families subject to work requirements and financial incentives gained about $1,300, and the government gained about $1,300 as well (in 2000 dollars) over the six-year follow-up period. The study defined government gains as the amount the government saved from reduced public assistance benefits relative to the amount the government spent on participants in the WRP.

Studies of this Intervention

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Study Quality Rating Study Counts per Rating
High High 3