• 0.44,2.00
  • 0.20,2.50
  • 0.11,1.00
  • 0.05,1.00

ABC aimed to increase earnings for recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) through personal responsibility requirements, work provisions, and time limits on benefit receipt.

ABC aimed to increase earnings for recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) through personal responsibility requirements, work provisions, and time limits on benefit receipt.

ABC was one of the demonstration projects made possible by Section 1115 waivers to the rules in effect at the time for the AFDC program. These Section 1115 waivers allowed states to test new approaches to advance the objectives of the AFDC program.

ABC required participants to comply with welfare reform policies that included employment and training activities and parenting expectations; failure to meet these requirements could result in reductions in participants' AFDC benefits. ABC also changed benefit eligibility rules. First, participants had to sign a contract of mutual responsibilities (CMR) that committed them to attending employment, training, or education activities and to meeting certain parental behavior expectations, such as ensuring that children follow their school’s attendance requirements. The employment and training activities could include job search assistance, job development, and unsubsidized employment. ABC also disallowed grant increases for children conceived more than 10 months after the parent was enrolled in ABC and increased incentives to work through retaining more of participants' cash grants if their earned income increased. Participants were subject to full-family time limits that allowed them to search for a job and receive cash benefits for no more than two years; after two years, participants had to accept a community-service job to remain eligible for assistance for another two years. ABC also included expanded supportive services such as assistance with transportation, child care, and expanded health coverage.

ABC participants received services until they left AFDC for employment or reached the time limit for benefits, which was a maximum of four years. AFDC recipients were required to participate in ABC program employment and training activities, except for parents who had children younger than 13 weeks old or who were medically unable to work. ABC was implemented in five of Delaware’s 13 AFDC offices.

Year evaluation began: 1995
Populations and employment barriers: Cash assistance recipients
Intervention services: Academic instruction, Financial incentives, Sanctions, Supportive services, Training, Subsidized employment, Unpaid work experience, Work experience, Work readiness activities, Job search assistance, Job development/job placement
Setting(s): Tested in multiple settings

Effectiveness rating and effect by outcome domain

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Outcome domain Term Effectiveness rating Effect in 2018 dollars and percentages Effect in standard deviations Sample size
Increase earnings Short-term Little evidence to assess support favorable $774 per year 0.037 3959
Long-term Little evidence to assess support favorable $84 per year 0.004 3959
Very long-term No evidence to assess support
Increase employment Short-term Supported favorable 4% (in percentage points) 0.108 3959
Long-term Little evidence to assess support unfavorable 0% (in percentage points) -0.010 3959
Very long-term No evidence to assess support
Decrease benefit receipt Short-term Supported favorable $-149 per year -0.054 2447
Long-term Supported favorable $-875 per year -0.318 2447
Very long-term No evidence to assess support
Increase education and training All measurement periods No evidence to assess support

Participant race and ethnicity
Unknown, not reported, or other

Implementation details

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Dates covered by study

The ABC intervention provided services in five Delaware AFDC offices from October 1995 to February 1997. The study measured impacts for these sites up to four years after random assignment. ABC was implemented statewide in March 1997.

Organizations implementing intervention

Three state-level Delaware agencies partnered to implement the intervention, with their contributions varying based on their areas of responsibility. The Division of Social Services (DSS) in Delaware’s Department of Health and Social Services operated Delaware’s welfare cash assistance program and managed the intervention. The Delaware Department of Labor’s Division of Employment and Training developed employment service contracts with DSS and managed all employment service contracts except Workfare. The Delaware Economic Development Organization developed relationships with potential employers and offered job training services.

Populations served

The ABC intervention served single-parent families receiving cash assistance. Sixty-eight percent of participants had at least one child younger than the age of 6. Sixty-one percent of participants were not White, and 53 percent of participants held high school diplomas or the equivalent. Twenty-two percent of participants were older than the age of 35, 45 percent of participants were between the ages of 25 to 34, and 33 percent of participants were younger than the age of 25. Participation was mandatory unless participants’ children were younger than 13 weeks old or the participants were medically unable to work.

Description of services implemented

ABC was created under the federal Section 1115 waivers to test new approaches to achieving AFDC’s goals. ABC implemented welfare reform policies that focused on quickly moving participants into work and supporting their success, changing benefit eligibility rules, promoting financial self-sufficiency, and encouraging responsible parenting. ABC offered expanded access to Medicaid and expanded funding for transportation and child care to support work success. Participants signed a CMR that stated they would adhere to reform policies that included participation in employment, training, or education activities and parenting expectations.

Employment and training activities. ABC required adults to participate in employment and training activities, but activities before and after 24 months on cash assistance differed.

  • First 24 months. Participants first met and worked with a job search contractor to search for employment. Participants who obtained unsubsidized employment were required to work for at least 20 hours a week and received job retention services. ABC referred participants to intensive job-readiness and placement services if they did not find a job in 90 days. Participants could voluntarily participate in remedial education to learn basic education skills.

  • Second 24 months. After two years of receiving assistance, unemployed participants had to participate in a program called Workfare to continue receiving cash assistance. Workfare placed participants in community service jobs to build work skills. Workfare required participants to attend orientation, work in a community service placement, and search for unsubsidized jobs. Participants continued to receive cash assistance and were required to work enough unpaid hours so that a minimum-wage payment for those hours would be equal to their combined cash assistance and food stamp payments.

Benefits eligibility. Changes to AFDC eligibility requirements were implemented and included the following restrictions and expansions to assistance:

  • Time limits. Participants could receive cash assistance for up to four cumulative years.

  • Sanctions. Participants’ cash assistance was sanctioned if they did not adhere to work and parenting requirements agreed upon in the CMR. Participants were not eligible to receive cash assistance if they received three sanctions or did not comply for five continuous months.

  • Family cap. Participants did not receive additional cash assistance for children born more than 10 months after ABC began.

  • Financial incentives. Participants’ cash assistance payments were reduced by 50 cents for every additional $1 of earnings or child support, rather than a dollar-for-dollar reduction under traditional AFDC rules.

  • Responsible parenting. Participants were expected to live with an adult guardian if they were younger than age 18, attend a parenting class, receive information from a family planning provider, engage in substance use treatment if necessary, cooperate with child support enforcement, and ensure children received timely immunizations and attended school.

Challenges. The three state agencies faced challenges coordinating services and communicating policies to staff who provided participant services. Some participants were hesitant to enroll in remedial education focused on basic education skills necessary for work because it did not count as a required work activity. Participants who were working in unsubsidized employment resisted job retention services because they were dissatisfied with sanctions or with previous interactions with the program; other participants were concerned that retention services might lead to stigmatization at their unsubsidized job. Fewer participants worked in Workfare community service positions than expected, and those that did were placed in low-skill service jobs in soup kitchens or community service organizations.

Service intensity

ABC participants received cash assistance and services until they obtained unsubsidized employment or reached the time limit for benefits, which was a maximum of four cumulative years. Participants engaged in mandatory employment activities like job search were referred to intensive services after 90 days if they did not find unsubsidized employment. Participants employed in unsubsidized positions were required to work at least 20 hours a week to receive cash assistance. After receiving benefits for two years, participants were required to participate in Workfare or work in an unsubsidized job.

In total, sixty-two percent of participants took part in employment and training activities or held unsubsidized employment in the first 24 months of ABC. Forty-five percent of participants participated in an employment and training activity, and another 17 percent of participants did not participate in an employment and training activity but worked in unsubsidized jobs. In the second 24 months of ABC, 16 percent of participants worked in Workfare community service positions.

Comparison conditions

Individuals randomly assigned to the comparison group were subject to the existing AFDC program policies, which meant participants received an open-ended cash assistance entitlement focused on education and training.


MAXIMUS Inc., a private organization, provided Workfare services. Community-based organizations, Delaware community colleges, and for-profit firms provided job search, retention, and remediation services.


Financial services social workers and case managers provided services at DSS. Financial services social workers processed welfare applications, including determining program and work eligibility and developing and monitoring CMRs. Case managers met with participants once to discuss work requirements and refer them to supportive services and job search contractors. Case managers then monitored compliance and enforced financial sanctions remotely.

The study authors did not include information on staff providing other services.

Local context

The intervention took place in Delaware through five Delaware AFDC offices.

Fidelity measures

The study did not discuss any tools to measure fidelity to the intervention model.

Funding source

Delaware’s DSS and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services funded the intervention.

Cost information

The study did not discuss a cost per participant. It also did not discuss a comparison of costs and benefits.

Studies of this intervention

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Study quality rating Study counts per rating
High High 1