Description and Assessment of State Approaches to Diversion Programs and Activities Under Welfare Reform. B. Examples of State Approaches to Alternative Resources Diversion

08/01/1998

In Montana, efforts to link TANF applicants with alternative resources occurs through their JOB Supplement Program (JSP) that offers child care assistance, food stamps, Medicaid and lump sum payments but does not offer a monthly TANF cash grant. JSP is primarily for people with a fairly stable source of income or the ability to find employment quickly. Time spent in JSP does not count towards the time limit on TANF benefits. Families who do not have any source of income are steered into Pathways, Montana=s more traditional AFDC/TANF program that provides cash assistance.

When families apply for assistance in Montana, they meet with a Families Achieving Independence in Montana (FAIM) coordinator, a caseworker who does both eligibility determination and case management. During their initial interview, caseworkers conduct a comprehensive assessment of an individual=s needs and circumstances and consider all potential resources. The caseworker uses several tools to conduct this assessment: a household budget sheet, an action plan in which an individual writes out what the goals of the family are for the immediate future, and a screening guide or a self-assessment tool that describes credit problems, substance use/abuse, domestic violence, literacy level, and other barriers or strengths. During this interview process, if the applicant is found to have family in the area, the caseworker will talk to the applicant about how strong the family support system is and what kinds of resources can be drawn from that family (e.g., a mother who can watch grandchildren instead of incurring child care cost). Caseworkers can also make referrals to community agencies and contact family members if appropriate. In general, caseworkers do not make phone calls and instead provide the applicant with the information necessary to contact resources, e.g., information about the housing authority for housing needs, or the district transit authority for transportation assistance.

Montana=s JSP program was created to help individuals identify what resources and support systems other than TANF were available in their community. Montana has also supported the creation of local entities known as Community Advisory Councils (CAC). The CACs have a variety of local responsibilities including decision about how to support welfare reform and diversion programs. To assist with the mplementation of JSP, each CAC conducts a needs assessment of their community and develops a comprehensive resource guide for the caseworkers. Montana=s approach to providing assistance is that they do not want families to accept cash assistance unless they absolutely have to. However, families have the option to turn down participation in JSP and have their application for cash assistance processed.

Florida=s efforts to link families with alternative resources are less formalized than Montana=s efforts. In their efforts to determine whether a family=s needs might be met through a lump sum payment, caseworkers also explore whether there are resources within the community that could be used to help a family meet their needs. Caseworkers are expected to be knowledgeable about the resources available in the community. Although caseworkers explore the potential availability of alternative resources, they do not actively discourage people from applying for TANF benefits. On the other hand, their goal is to help people save the time-limited TANF benefits available to them for the difficult situations when they may need these benefits the most.

New York=s Front Door diversion program occurs at the local level. The state estimates that about half of the counties in the state formally screen applicants to see if they can be diverted. The goal of the state=s program is to divert applicants for assistance by helping them identify other services and resources that might be available to them. In counties where this type of diversion is in place, caseworkers explore the following types of questions with TANF applicants: Is there anyone else who can help you? Have you worked recently? If so, why did you leave work? Is the current problem temporary? What can you do to avoid public assistance? Those receiving Front Door diversion services are eligible to receive job search assistance, work orientation and child care. Caseworkers also try to identify applicants who are disabled and get them to apply for SSI, VA or Social Security Disability benefits.

Wisconsin=s efforts to divert individuals through alternative resources represent the most aggressive approach among the ten states. Wisconsin conducts an extensive screening process and also makes financial resources other than TANF available to the applicant. Specifically, after the applicant has applied for TANF, she meets with a Aresource specialist.@ The resource specialist helps the TANF applicant identify potential alternative resources and will make necessary referrals to other agencies for case management services, transportation, child care, Medicaid, food stamps, job search and emergency assistance. Additionally, the resource specialist will screen job ready applicants for a job access loan. The loan can range from $25 to $1600, depending on the need, and is available to TANF applicants who indicate an emergency financial need to maintain or obtain employment. In effect, the resource specialist explores all available options and directs the TANF applicant to other services and resources before TANF is considered.