Examination of Service Receipt and Earnings History Shows Decrease in Use of Cash Assistance
What We Did
We used Chapin Hall’s Integrated Database on Children and Family Services in Illinois (IDB) to identify nine cohorts of cash assistance cases that entered Illinois’s system between 1991 and 1999, and analyzed their service receipt and earnings histories during this period of significant policy change. For this study, we used the data from the Client Database of the Department of Human Services, which contains individual-level information on the period of AFDC/TANF receipt, and the timing and amount of earnings. In particular, we describe the experiences of the case grantees in terms of their service receipt and earnings histories. We combined multiple cross-sections of monthly Client Database data into a longitudinal database that begins in 1989 and is updated monthly.
What We Found
- Fewer people entered the cash assistance program from the mid-1990s forward; more were leaving the program; fewer were returning once they left; while receiving cash assistance, earnings were higher (although still quite low) and occurring sooner than in prior years—no doubt the effect of Work Pays and the strong economy.
- Examination of the rates of case entry (i.e., new recipients) and case exit (i.e., disengagement with the program) showed that this decrease was due to a decline in new cases, rather than active cases leaving the program.
- The total number of months over which recipients engaged the program also decreased in this period, as did the number of recipients returning to the program after previously leaving.
- Recipient earnings improved over the decade, while the time between program entry and first earnings (as reported by the recipient) was reduced.
What It Means
- Caseload decline did not slow over this period; while the reforms were designed to reduce the reliance on welfare by all but those unable to work, this “floor” had not been reached by 1999.
- The decrease in new cases over time, coupled with other caseload dynamics, suggests that recipients were increasingly seeking employment prior to receiving benefits, or delaying application for TANF, following these reforms.
- Illinois’s strong economy during this period may have contributed to these caseload trends.