Mathematica provided recommendations to improve measurement of employment and family stability outcomes for families that will participate in a new Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) pilot program. Under the pilot program, up to five states will be selected to develop and test performance metrics for their TANF programs that relate to work and family outcomes instead of the work participation rate—which is TANF’s current performance measure.
“The pilots will directly affect families receiving TANF,” wrote Mathematica. “It is critical to seek their input and ideas to better design and implement more effective and equitable services that work for them. The challenges that families face in accessing and participating in services must be considered in the pilots’ design, or states run the risk of developing pilot programs that make services harder to access, increase inequality in access to benefits, and hinder families from moving toward work-based outcomes.”
Mathematica’s recommendations came in response to a request for information from the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), regarding the design and implementation of new TANF pilot programs and work outcomes measures of the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 (FRA).
Drawing on its robust experience supporting the development, implementation, and evaluation of government programs and providing technical assistance to state and local TANF programs, Mathematica outlined several recommendations for ACF, including:
- Align selected family well-being measures with the pilot sites’ specific TANF program models, theories of change, and populations served, to ensure programs are being assessed against outcomes they can reasonably expect to affect.
- Conduct implementation evaluations of pilot sites to inform similar programs attempted in other states.
- Consider allowing for a staggered rollout of pilots, accompanied by rapid-cycle evaluation, so states can work out implementation challenges before scaling statewide.
- Diversify pilot sites based on cash grant size, program reach, state- and county-administered TANF program representation, and economic diversity to maximize learning.
- Systematically create authentic opportunities for families to provide feedback during the pilot design, implementation, and evaluation.
- Disaggregate and interpret data by race and ethnicity to ensure equity is a priority, and examine the structural and social determinants that explain observed findings.
- Partner with the U.S. Department of Labor at the federal level as well as labor departments (or their equivalents) at state levels to set expectations and communicate the importance of collaboration on work outcomes measures.