User's Guide

This guide outlines the recommended steps a user should take to query information from the Welfare Rules Database (WRD).

The manual answers many initial questions about the design and content of the database. The Coding Manual includes:

  • The database's purpose and structure
  • Coding policies
  • Category and variable documentation

To find:

The Data Dictionary provides descriptions of the policy categories and all the variables within each category.

To find:

  • Click the "Data Dictionary" link. The list of WRD categories will appear.
  • Choose a category by clicking on the category name. Alternatively, enter key terms into the search tool.

Category Documentation

Clicking the name of the category sends the user to a description of the specified category.

The Data Dictionary provides a short two to three sentence description of each category. However, the user can access a longer description by clicking the "Full category documentation" link at the end of each passage.

The full category documentation provides:

  • A description of the policies captured in the category
  • A description of the evolution of these policies under AFDC and TANF.
  • "Overlap issues" between categories. This information is helpful in two ways. First, this section indicates which, if any, additional categories a user may need in order to understand a policy. For instance, the variables contained in the Income Eligibility Tests category do not, on their own, completely describe a state's or territory's eligibility tests. Variables in the Dollar Amounts category are also required in order to determine which standards are used for each test. Second, in some cases, a user may assume that a policy is captured in one category, but that policy may actually be captured in another category. These types of situations are discussed in the overlap issues section.
  • "Special issues" regarding how the category is coded. These details may help the user understand category constructs.

Variable Descriptions

The Data Dictionary also provides a list of variables contained in each category and descriptions of these variables. Below each category description, the variables are listed in the order in which they are coded. In some cases, the order of the variables does not matter, because the variables are independent of each other (for example, In-kind Income variables). However, in other categories, several variables explain each policy (for example, five separate variables are used to describe each earned income disregard). In these cases, a user must know the ordering of the variables to understand the policy.

The documentation, in Appendix B of the Coding Manual, must be read closely for the user to understand which variables are needed for a complete query. Often, one variable is not sufficient to explain a policy.

Beginning a Query

After becoming familiar with the categories and variables, a query can be constructed.

To begin a query:

  • Click the "Custom Search" link on the Home page. The interface which accesses the data will appear.
  • A query is constructed using the following steps.

Choosing Categories

Use the "Categories" drop-down menu to choose a category by clicking on the name. Only one category at a time may be selected.

After choosing a category, the variables contained in the selected category will appear in the "Variables" drawer.

For brief category definitions, refer to the Data Dictionary. A short description of the category will appear in each section.

For a more comprehensive description, click on the "Full category documentation" link and the longer category documentation will appear.

Choosing Coverage

Determine whether to query all records or only the “majority rule” records. The interface can search the database by "Majority only" or "All records".

To retrieve only the information that applied to the largest sub-group of the caseload for most of the year, select "Majority only".

If, however, the user wants to retrieve data on all policies in effect in a state or territory, select "All records". An "All records" search can produce several records for each year and state or territory because some states and territories have several different policies in effect at any one point in time depending on the unit type or geographic area in which the unit resides, or have different policies in effect at different times during the year.

For more information on coverage, see the Coding Manual. There is an extensive discussion of majority rule and coverage variation.

Choosing States and Territories

Determine which states and or territories to include in the query. A query can search for data in one state or territory, a selected group of states and territories, or all states and territories.

To select all states and territories, click “Select all”.

Choosing Variables

The variables contained in the selected category will appear in the "Variables" drawer. Using the variable descriptions in the Data Dictionary, as well as the category and variable documentation in the Coding Manual and Policy Categories pages, determine which variable(s) to include in the query.

To select all variables, click “Select all”.

Choosing Years

Determine which year(s) to include in the query. A query can search for data in one year, multiple years, or all years.

To select all years, click “Select all”.

To select all years, click the "All" box above the "Years" window.

Choosing How to Display the Data

Data can be retrieved in one of the following formats:

1. Limited Table

The limited table displays data as a state/territory and year crosstab. All header variables are excluded. For more information on header variables, see the Coding Manual.

Note: Without the header variables, it is not possible to determine whether the rules apply to all assistance unit types or only a selected group of units, such as recipients only or two-parent families. In addition, the short table does not provide any information regarding the geographic area or percentage of the caseload covered by the given rules. Finally, majority rule records are not necessarily consistent across categories. The majority rule record in one category may not describe the same population or time period as the majority rule record in another category. For example, the majority rule record in a given year for Income Eligibility Tests may apply to recipients from July to December. However, in the same year, the Dollar Amounts majority rule record may apply to all units in only 20 counties from January to December.

2. Standard Table

The standard table displays all selected variables as well as the header variables in the browser window. This format can be used for "Majority only" or "All records" queries. Displaying the header records is often necessary in order to fully understand which assistance units are affected by policies in the state or territory. For more information on header variables, see the Coding Manual.

Both the Limited Table and the Standard Table can be downloaded as the following file types:

1. Tab-delimited

The tab-delimited format saves the data to a text file, with each value separated from other values by a tab. This format can be downloaded directly into a spreadsheet, such as Microsoft Excel or Corel Quattro Pro. Notes associated with a particular variable, if any, will be included with that variable's value, separated by a space.

2. Comma-delimited

The comma-delimited format saves the data to a text file, with each value separated from other values by a comma. This is the most common file format and can be imported into almost any application. Notes associated with a particular variable, if any, will be included with that variable's value, separated by a space.

3. Excel (.xlsx)

The Excel .xlsx file format saves the data to an Excel workbook. This format can be accessed through Microsoft Excel. Notes associated with a particular variable, if any, will be included in a column adjacent to that variable's value.

Retrieving Data

After constructing a query, click the "Download Datafile" button. The query will begin to process. Depending on the amount of data requested, this process may take a few seconds to several minutes.

When the data appear, all variable notes, if they exist, will appear next to the variable. In addition, if the record (row) contains any Additional Notes, they will appear at the end of the variable list under the heading Notes.

If the tab-delimited or comma-delimited options are chosen, a dialog box entitled "File Download" will appear. The user is given the option to open the file with a program or save it to disk. Select the option "Save this file to disk" and click "Ok". Select the preferred spreadsheet package. Follow the file import procedures for the selected software.

Tab-delimited files may be imported directly into most spreadsheet software. To do this, select “Open this file” instead of “Save this file to disk” and then select your spreadsheet program.

Help Functions

If questions or problems arise while constructing a query, The "?" icons can provide a quick guide.

Printing Screens

To print the interface screens, go to "File" then "Print". A "Print" dialog box appears. At the bottom of the box, a section entitled "Print frames" appears. Click the "As laid out on screen" option and click "Ok". This prints all of the information as seen on the screen.