This report presents the findings of the final phase of a five-year evaluation of welfare reforms implemented by the Arizona Department of Economic Security under two major initiatives that altered the rules and procedures for providing cash assistance to low-income families.
The first set of reforms was implemented in November 1995 under the title EMPOWER, for “Employing and Moving People Off Welfare and Encouraging Responsibility.” These policy changes included time-limited assistance, a family benefit cap, restricted eligibility for unwed minor parents, mandatory JOBS participation for teen parents, stricter JOBS sanctions, extended Transitional Medical Assistance and Transitional Child Care, elimination of the 100-hour rule for two-parent families, and individual development accounts.
The second set of reforms, entitled EMPOWER Redesign and referred to in this report simply as “Redesign,” was implemented in August 1997. These changes included the use of a Personal Responsibility Agreement, imposition of progressive sanctions (including possible loss of the full family benefit) for non-compliance with program requirements (relating to JOBS, child support enforcement, school attendance, and child immunization), removal of adult exemptions from JOBS participation (with a limited number of deferrals), and local office administrative reforms aimed at co-locating program services and establishing a more employment-focused “work first” pattern of client flow. Under the latter reforms, applicants attended a group orientation session and were offered job-finding resources (including a resource center) before being considered for cash assistance and other transitional income support, and before receiving employment-related services (including job-readiness classes).
Overall, this final phase of the evaluation found that the Arizona welfare recipients who were among the first subject to the EMPOWER reforms have continued to show general improvement in their economic circumstances, as followed for four years since implementation of the reforms. A significant minority, however, have experienced financial hardships. Although most have gone off welfare and now consider themselves better-off, many feel financially insecure. Among recent welfare applicants, most view favorably the changes in local offices, as adopted under Redesign, to co-locate programs and establish a “work first” emphasis in providing services to clients. (author abstract)