Description and Assessment of State Approaches to Diversion Programs and Activities Under Welfare Reform. E. Applicant Job Search As Formal and Informal Diversion

08/01/1998

In contrast to lump sum payment programs where many of the decisions regarding the structure of the programs are made at the state level and the rules are relatively well defined, applicant job search programs are characterized by considerable devolution of decision making to local offices and by substantial worker discretion. Given the amount of discretion associated with determining who might be excepted from applicant job search, what the specific scope of the job search will be, and who might be excused from completing their job search requirements, it is difficult to determine the extent to which mandatory applicant job search programs are likely to divert applicants from TANF. Nonetheless, it is possible to identify the characteristics of these programs that seem most likely to result in diversion.

To the extent that job search assistance increases the likelihood that an applicant will find employment, one would expect programs that provide more job search assistance to result in higher levels of employment and therefore higher levels of formal diversion. With considerable assistance available, fewer applicants may be discouraged from applying for assistance, potentially reducing the number of applicants who are diverted informally. On the other hand, informal diversion may be higher in programs where little job search assistance is provided, particularly if applicants might be easily discouraged by relatively demanding job search requirements, particularly if they have failed in previous efforts to find employment.

The intensity of the job search requirements could affect whether and how TANF applicants are diverted in several different ways. If the likelihood of finding employment is directly related to the number of employer contacts one makes, then the likelihood of applicants finding employment and being formally diverted would be higher in programs with more intense job search requirements. However, if the number of job searches required is beyond what many TANF applicants believe they can reasonably accomplish in the specified time period, then applicants may apply for jobs randomly, paying little attention to whether or not they are likely to be qualified or be considered for the job. If this occurs, a higher number of job contacts will not necessarily translate into a higher probability of finding employment. In addition, the more difficult the requirements are to meet, the more likely applicants may be to either give up or not apply for assistance in anticipation that they will be unable to meet the requirement. To the extent that such circumstances occur frequently, there is potential for mandatory applicant job search programs to create substantial informal rather than formal diversions.

How workers use their discretion with respect to exceptions may also affect the extent to which mandatory applicant job search requirements result in formal or informal diversion from the welfare system. If workers do a good job at accommodating applicants who are unable to meet the job search requirement, applicants will be less likely to either give up on meeting or fail to meet the job search requirements. In addition, potential applicants may be less likely to avoid applying for TANF because they do not feel they can meet the expected job search requirements.

In sum, mandatory job search requirements are likely to divert potential TANF recipients both formally and informally. In well-designed programs providing the assistance that applicants need to look for work, applicants will be diverted formally because they find employment. On the other hand, if programs provide minimal support and require relatively stringent job search activities that are unrealistic in terms of the abilities of most potential TANF applicants, mandatory applicant job search programs may result in substantial, and possibly undesirable, informal diversion.