Serving TANF and Low-Income Populations through WIA One-Stop Centers

01/01/2004

National welfare reform legislation in 1996 created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program, which imposed time limits on cash assistance receipt and broadened and strengthened mandates for clients to work or engage in work-related activities. The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) rationalized and consolidated multiple employment-related public programs into a unified system through which comprehensive labor market information, job training, and job-finding assistance could be provided in "one-stop" service centers. WIA legislation mandated that public assistance recipients and other low-income citizens were to have priority for employment-related services. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, initiated a study to help understand and assess the degree to which TANF and WIA programs work together to further their mutual policy goals at a time when both programs were undergoing congressional reauthorization.

This report presents major findings from that study, Serving TANF and Low-Income Populations through WIA One-Stop Centers. The study gathered information about how WIA participation and services for individuals receiving TANF and other low-income populations may be affected by TANF and WIA program context, management structures, policies, and administrative arrangements. Findings are based largely on in-depth interviews with local informants and available program data for seven purposively selected one-stop centers, including: Anoka County (MN), Dakota County (MN), San Angelo (TX), Round Rock (TX), Bridgeport (CT), West Oxnard (CA), and Edgecombe/Nash Counties (NC). Major findings include:

Successful WIA/TANF program coordination is promoted where program management functions, case management functions, and administrative systems are shared across agencies.

  • In two study sites, WIA and TANF are managed within the same County Human Services agency.
  • One study site teams WIA and TANF workers to manage the same caseloads together.
  • In Texas, the WIA and TANF automated administrative data systems interface and automatically exchange key program information.

Successful WIA/TANF program coordination is promoted where WIA and TANF line staffs are co-located and/or communicate regularly to discuss specific cases and policies.

  • TANF eligibility workers and employment services workers are co-located in three study sites.
  • In some sites, managers and staff from WIA, TANF, and other one-stop center partner agencies hold monthly meetings to discuss cross-program issues, including case-specific issues and specific policies or procedures.
  • One study one-stop dedicates a staff member as the primary contact for cross-program questions regarding specific cases or policies.

Effective WIA/TANF program coordination may be inhibited by differing institutional cultures and a lack of knowledge and understanding of policy and procedures across agencies.

Effective WIA/TANF program coordination and communication may be inhibited where agency administrative systems do not interface or automatically exchange relevant case information.

WIA participation among TANF clients and other low-income populations is higher where local WIA agencies make a commitment to focus intensive and training services on those clients.

  • One of the study sites reserves all WIA intensive and training services for TANF clients.
  • One WIA program has adopted income eligibility standards for WIA intensive and training services, thus operationalizing the commitment to prioritize service to low-income populations.

WIA participation among TANF clients and other low-income populations is more likely where education and training services are on site at WIA one-stop centers.

WIA participation among TANF clients and other low-income populations is thought to be more effective where training services are appropriate to local labor markets for low-income and entry-level workers.

  • WIA agencies in two sites periodically contract for labor market surveys to assess local industry needs for low-income and entry-level workers.

Both WIA performance standards and federal TANF work participation rules may affect what WIA training services are provided to TANF clients.

  • Many informants indicated that the relatively high expectations for post-training placements for WIA participants embedded in federal WIA performance standards have led to procedures to screen out individuals with low educational attainment and/or low work experience.
  • Federal TANF work participation policies restrict the percentage of a state's nonexempt TANF caseload that may be engaged in education or training services and be counted toward the work participation rate.

Informants indicated that work-first TANF policies that stress immediate job placement over longer-term training also may affect enrollment of TANF clients in WIA intensive or training services.

The study sites have implemented several innovations and promising approaches to improving WIA/TANF coordination and integration. Some conclusions to draw from those practices include:

  • When TANF and WIA are in separate local agencies, good cross-program coordination requires strong upper-level management attention.
  • The co-location of front-line employment services workers and TANF eligibility staff aids in cross-program coordination and integration.
  • Interactive employment agency and TANF agency administrative data systems assist in coordinating case management across programs.
  • Understanding the local market for low-income workers helps in planning WIA training services for TANF clients and other low-income populations.
  • Regular meetings of employment services and TANF managers and line staff help foster mutual understanding of program policies and practices.
  • The on-site provision of education and training services is an important convenience for low-income clients.
  • The progressive upgrading of the education and vocational skills of TANF clients and other low-income populations helps link services to labor market needs.