The U.S. federal welfare program is designed to help the millions of Americans unemployed or mired in jobs that don't pay the bills, provide adequate benefits or offer advancement opportunity. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) was created to move poor people off the welfare roles. At the time of this report, states were reexamining their TANF programs and had the opportunity to set new definitions for program success and measure whether TANF was effective in leading families out of poverty and toward economic self-sufficiency, This report encouraged such action.
In the absence of federal leadership on this issue, states need to look beyond process outcomes and establish their own goals and outcomes that measure progress toward family economic well-being. Not only will such outcomes identify the level of success states are achieving, they also will provide important feedback as to whether state TANF activities and services provide economic value to participants.
The old maxim “what gets measured is what gets done” underlies the WPFP’s interest in recasting state TANF policies to measure progress toward economic self-suffi ciency. Arkansas demonstrated the value of this approach. By adopting outcome measures that examined progress toward economic self-suffi ciency, the state identifi ed a need to redirect its TANF resources to help participants achieve higher earnings.