Rural Welfare-to-Work Strategies Demonstration Evaluation

Prepared for
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families

The Rural Welfare-to-Work (WtW) Strategies Demonstration Evaluation used random assignment to assess innovative approaches to helping welfare-dependent and other low-income families in rural areas to enter, maintain, and advance in employment and to secure family well-being.

The demonstration evaluation focused on four key sets of questions that are central to assessing new initiatives:

  1. How were the rural WtW programs implemented and operated?
  2. How much did it cost to operate these programs?
  3. How effective were the programs in the demonstration in increasing employment, increasing earnings, and improving other measures of family well-being?
  4. Did the programs’ net benefits outweigh the costs?

Programs from the rural parts of Illinois, Nebraska, and (initially) Tennessee were included in the evaluation. Each program offered innovative services to address different types of employment barriers common in rural areas:

  • The Illinois Future Steps program offered intensive, employment-focused case management to prepare participants for work and to help them to obtain and keep good jobs. This approach responded to economic problems in rural areas, such as a weak economic base and lack of good jobs.
  • The Building Nebraska Families program offered individualized, home-based education and mentoring to help participants develop life skills and overcome barriers, thus indirectly enhancing their employability. This approach recognized that many individuals face multiple, serious personal barriers to employment and that specialized services to address these barriers often are limited and difficult to access in remote areas.
  • The Tennessee First Wheels program provided no-interest car loans and offered individualized support to help low-income employed individuals to maintain their vehicles and stay current in their loan payments. This approach addressed the lack of reliable, affordable transportation that can impede progress toward work and self-sufficiency.

The Nebraska initiative, which combined intensive home visitation and life skills education to prepare high-risk TANF clients in rural Nebraska to succeed in the world of work and improve their families’ well-being, was effective in increasing employment and earnings as well as reducing poverty for the very hard to employ.