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Rapid Cycle Evaluation of Operational Improvements in SNAP E&T Programs

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Abstract

In addition to providing nutrition assistance benefits to millions of low-income individuals experiencing economic hardship, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides work supports through Employment and Training (E&T) programs that help SNAP participants gain skills and find work. State agencies are required to operate an E&T program and have considerable flexibility to determine the services they offer and populations they serve. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) seeks to ensure the quality of the services and activities offered through SNAP E&T programs by investing resources and providing technical assistance to help states build capacity, create more robust services, and increase engagement in their programs.

The rapid cycle evaluation of operational improvements in SNAP E&T Programs (SNAP E&T RCE) evaluation will use rapid cycle evaluation (RCE) to test small-scale interventions in SNAP E&T operations or service delivery to determine their effectiveness in improving program engagement and service take-up. RCE is an approach that involves cycles of identifying, testing, and refining small-scale, low-cost operational interventions to determine their effectiveness. SNAP E&T RCE has partnered with eight sites to identify the main challenges their SNAP E&T programs face: (1) Colorado Department of Human Services, (2) Connecticut: Community Colleges, (3) District of Columbia Department of Human Services, (4) Kansas Division of Children and Families, (5) Minnesota Department of Human Services, (6) Minnesota: Hennepin County Department of Human Services, (7) Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance, and (8) Rhode Island Department of Human Services.

Objectives for this study include:

  1. Describing how RCE can be used to improve SNAP E&T operations, service delivery and program outcomes;
  2. designing and implementing RCEs to obtain impact estimates of small-scale interventions on SNAP E&T outcomes;
  3. conducting an implementation evaluation;
  4. assessing the scalability of small-scale interventions to SNAP E&T operations and services delivery to other SNAP E&T programs; and
  5. determining and documenting the costs associated with implementing and maintaining small-scale interventions.

The SNAP E&T RCE team is using the Learn, Innovate, and Improve (LI2) framework to collaborate with sites, identify the challenges they want to address, and eventually design and test the interventions. The learn phase focuses on assessing sites' needs and readiness to make changes, which informs development of solutions or strategies—the focus of the innovate phase. The challenges the eight sites identified through the learn phase generally involve recruitment and outreach or participant engagement and receipt of services. The SNAP E&T RCE team worked with each site to co-create an intervention addressing one of these challenges through the innovate phase. Examples of interventions the sites plan to test include sending text messages and emails to participants to encourage enrollment in SNAP E&T or attendance at appointments or activities, using assessments of work readiness to improve participant referrals, or enhancing case management.

After identifying challenges in each site and designing interventions for addressing them, the SNAP E&T RCE team will work with each site to define operational plans for implementing the interventions and testing, refining, and retesting selected strategies in the Improve phase. Most interventions will be evaluated using randomized control trials in which individuals eligible for the intervention will be randomly assigned to a treatment group that receives the intervention or a control group that does not. The control group will be offered the existing approach to recruiting, outreach, and engagement, depending on the focus of intervention. Once interventions have been successfully piloted to ensure they operate smoothly for the site, the SNAP E&T RCE team will provide technical assistance to sites while they implement the intervention for a period of about three to four months.

The study will gather data from administrative records, State and local SNAP administrators, and SNAP participants to evaluate the interventions' effectiveness in improving recruitment and program engagement. Where appropriate, the study will create a system for enrollment into the evaluation and random assignment. Data collected in this system may include demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, contact information, and the collection of service use data. The study will conduct a 10-minute participant survey among a total of 4,000 participants in four of the eight sites. The participant survey will be used to collect information on barriers to engaging with services and seeking employment, program satisfaction, and reasons for engagement decisions for both individuals who engaged in the E&T program and those who either never engaged or disengaged.

The study will also collect data for the implementation evaluation across all eight sites using a combination of semi-structured interviews with administrators, focus groups with participants, and staff characteristics questionnaires with frontline intervention staff. In addition, the study will conduct in-depth interviews with participants in four of the eight sites. Data collected from administrators and staff will be used to describe how the interventions were implemented, assess the fidelity of the implementation and costs of the intervention, and identify implications for future application of similar types of changes. Additional data collected from participants will provide context to the administrative data and survey responses related to participant decisions, satisfaction, and barriers, as well as give a voice to participant backgrounds and experiences.

Updated: 04/14/2022