In September 1999, Delaware’s A Better Chance Welfare Reform Program (ABC)–one of the nation’s first comprehensive, statewide welfare reforms–reached the end of its first four years. The milestone is significant as the point after which recipients began reaching ABC’s 48-month, full-family time limit. This report summarizes evaluation findings for ABC’s early years, a period extending through early 1999. Upcoming reports will cover ABC’s last two years, when the State made some important changes in the program.
This report is one of a series that Abt Associates has provided as part of a continuing evaluation of ABC for the State of Delaware. The study began in 1995 as a random assignment evaluation, then required as a condition for federal approval to waive Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) rules. Delaware discontinued the experiment in early 1997, when the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) lifted the federal evaluation requirement. As documented in this report, important treatment-control differences nevertheless have persisted well beyond the official end of the experiment and afford useful insights into the impacts of welfare reform.
Findings provided here summarize the early challenges Delaware faced in implementing ABC, and welfare recipients’ experiences over roughly a two-and-a-half-year follow-up period. The study finds that Delaware implemented a strict, work-oriented program that fundamentally altered the State’s welfare system. In refashioning its cash welfare program, the State’s Department of Health and Social Services’ Division of Social Services (DSS) made many basic changes in policies and procedures, administrative arrangements, and services. Delaware strongly enforced Contracts of Mutual Responsibilities requiring clients to participate in work activities and meet specified parenting responsibilities. The program had a number of significant impacts on clients, of which the most striking was a reduction in welfare use. Thanks to Delaware’s strong economy and no-nonsense work program, the vast majority of clients went to work during at least part of the follow-up period. However, few participants achieved economic independence within the study period, and the majority still was struggling to make ends meet. (author introduction)