Coordination and Integration of Welfare and Workforce Development Systems. Programmatic Barriers


Different Program Goals

One challenge to coordination encountered in many sites is the difference in the philosophies that guide the welfare and workforce development agencies. In response to PRWORA, many welfare agencies have adopted a work-first approach, which supports the work participation and caseload reduction goals that the agencies must meet, and reduces the possibility that welfare clients will exceed the time limit for cash assistance. In other words, the focus is on getting a job quickly and minimizing time on TANF.

Workforce development agencies, on the other hand, have historically subscribed to the human capital investment approach, preferring to train clients for a better job rather than placing clients in a job with low wages and little advancement potential. While many workforce development specialists acknowledge the value of any work experience, even unpaid work experience, for someone who has never been in the workforce, they encourage clients to take every opportunity they can for training. One employment and training worker suggested that clients should use the time available on TANF to take advantage of WtW and other programs so that when they do get a job, it will be a better job and they will have the skills for continued employment and advancement, thus reducing the chance of ever needing welfare again.

Workforce development agencies in several locations noted a concern about the push to place TANF recipients who are not yet ready to work. Because of time limits, some respondents felt that TANF agencies are placing clients in the workforce before they are fully job ready. Some employment and training providers fear that this could harm relationships that they have developed over time with local employers.

Different Concepts of Coordination

Another issue is that agencies may be unable to agree on the nature of collaboration that they are implementing and the services to be provided by each agency. For example, agencies may disagree on what the one-stop should be--co-location, sharing staff, or a computer system that facilitates referrals and information sharing. They may also disagree on who should perform client assessments (and what that entails), or on how long clients should be engaged in TANF work activities before being referred to another agency for services.

Different Performance Standards

Since many agencies are held accountable to performance standards, including the number of job placements, they may be reluctant to refer clients to another provider and lose the opportunity to get "credit," or count that client among their successes. Some performance-based contracts are structured so that agencies are only paid for job placements--that is, the agency does not get paid if the client is not placed in a job after completing the job readiness class. Agencies then have to work out the issue of who should pay for the class when a client completes the class, but is not able to obtain a job.

Declining Welfare Caseloads

In June 1999, there were over 5.3 million fewer individuals on TANF than in August 1996, when PRWORA was enacted--a decline of 44 percent nationally.(6) In the states we visited, caseload declines ranged from 12 percent in Rhode Island to 65 percent in South Carolina. The decline in TANF has had three important effects related to coordination. First, the number of TANF clients in JTPA has declined due to a combination of declining TANF caseloads, TANF time limits, and work-first approaches. In 1994, AFDC recipients accounted for 35 percent of participants in JTPA adult programs (Nightingale 1997). The proportion of JTPA participants on TANF/AFDC fell to 32 percent in 1996 and 29 percent in 1997.(7) Second, there are fewer clients either eligible for or seeking work-related services from TANF agencies, workforce development agencies, community-based organizations, and others. Third, the decline in welfare caseloads enables caseworkers in some TANF offices to spend more time with each client.

In some sites, the caseload decline has reduced referrals and interactions between agencies. Some TANF caseworkers were less inclined to work with other agencies since they had the time to provide more services themselves. However, in other sites, because caseworkers had the opportunity to get to know individual clients better, they were more likely to identify additional services needed. This encouraged their coordination with other agencies in order to facilitate access to additional services for clients.