Early Implementation of the Welfare-to-Work Grants Program: Findings From Exploratory Site Visits and Review of Program Plans. INTRODUCTION


The Welfare-to-Work (WtW) grants program was created under the 1997 Balanced Budget Act (BBA) to provide job opportunities, employment preparation, and job retention services for welfare recipients who are the hardest to employ. Congress intended for this new grants program to supplement ongoing welfare reform policies and programs enacted under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWORA) of 1996. The BBA authorized the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to distribute $3 billion in WtW grants to states and localities and instructed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to evaluate the implementation and effectiveness of WtW-funded programs and initiatives.

The National Evaluation of the WtW Grants Program has two primary objectives:  (1) to describe the implementation and operations of WtW grantee programs, and (2) to determine the results achieved by programs funded by the grants. These objectives are being achieved with a three-part research strategy:

  1. A nationwide survey of all WtW grantees, conducted twice and supplemented by a review of all grantee applications and program plans and initial exploratory site visits to a purposefully selected set of approved local programs
  2. A process and implementation analysis of programs operated by 12 to 15 grantees
  3. An experimental-design, random-assignment study that includes individual impact and cost-benefit analyses for a subset of programs included under the process and implementation study.

This report, one of several that will be issued under the evaluation over the next three years, provides information on the early design, operations, and implementation of the WtW grants program. It is intended as a companion to an earlier report on the evaluation's survey of all WtW grantees (Perez-Johnson and Hershey 1999).

This report is based on site visits conducted in early 1999 and a review of documents submitted by programs to DOL. The visits were exploratory, primarily intended to assist in the selection of sites for the next intensive phase of the evaluation. Sites were selected for the exploratory visits through a two-stage process. First, based on surveys administered to grantees, a review of competitive grant applications, and responses to outreach letters sent to state-level WtW grant liaisons and all private industry councils (PICs), dozens of grantees with some level of interest and possible suitability for the in-depth impact analysis were identified. Second, telephone discussions were held with administrators of about 80 of these projects to determine whether the program might be appropriate for a random assignment evaluation. (The main criteria were whether the program was planning to have more than 500 participants, and expected more referrals than the program could serve.) The final sites selected represented a mix of programs that might be candidates for the in-depth random impact analysis and others that might be prospects for process analysis only. The latter group of sites are primarily rural or have small projected enrollment. Thus, the sites visited in 1999 were not meant to be representative of all WtW grant programs. Similarly, since the visits were conducted relatively soon after program implementation, they do not necessarily represent current operations. Nonetheless, the exploratory site visits covered a set of programs diverse in type, scale, and geographic location. They can provide valuable insights into operational issues during the early phases of the WtW grants program.

The information presented in this report augments what was learned from the first survey of grantees as reported in the March 1999 Report to Congress (Perez-Johnson and Hershey 1999). In many instances, as noted in the remaining sections of this report, findings from the exploratory site visits expand on or confirm findings from the first grantee survey. Much remains to be learned about WtW programs as the evaluation continues, but some broad observations are possible now. The table on the following page [below] summarizes the main findings presented in this report.

Summary of Early Implementation Findings from the Evaluation of the Welfare-to-Work Grants Program
Many WtW programs place special emphasis on supported employment.  Local WtW programs offer a range of common employment-related activities, such as job readiness classes, skills assessment, and job search assistance. As determined in the earlier grantee survey, however, many programs also offer subsidized work or work experience enhanced with occupational skills training or education.
Job retention services are beginning to get increased attention in WtW programs.  In most WtW programs, case management and supportive services are extended for at least one year after a participant begins a job, although the intensity of the services varies. Intensive approaches include assigning a job coach to each participant, identifying mentors for new workers, and designating program staff to mediate between participants and their employers to resolve workplace problems.
In the first year of operations, WtW grantees spent considerable time on administrative and enrollment issues.  Program issues have been more complex, and the pace of implementation slower than expected. Grantees had to distribute funds, contract for service delivery, resolve fiscal audit and reporting concerns, coordinate with TANF agencies, and develop procedures to comply with complex program eligibility criteria. Local administrators and staff in the sites visited feel that the restrictive eligibility criteria in the original legislation is the main reason that enrollments have been lower than expected, confirming findings from the earlier survey of all grantees.
Potentially promising strategies are being developed and refined in some WtW grant programs.  Many WtW programs are developing innovative ways to improve the employability and job skills of participants. Some, for example, are subsidizing post-employment education and training, establishing business partnerships for work-based internships, and enhancing work experience with education or training that "wraps around" participants' work hours.
About half of the WtW programs are attempting to focus on specific subgroups of the overall eligible population. This observation supports the findings from the first grantee survey, but the site visits also revealed that targeting is seldom done to the exclusion of other population groups  nearly all programs visited, including those emphasizing special groups, are prepared to serve all categories of eligibles.
Local programs are accessing and using WtW grant funds in a variety of ways.  Many programs are using a mix of funds from competitive grants and formula grants. Some also have funds from the governor's discretionary portion of the state's formula grant.
PICs and community-based organizations (CBOs) are the main local actors, but delivering WtW services involves complex institutional arrangements.  At the local level, most WtW-funded programs are administered by Private Industry Councils (PICs) or by nonprofit CBOs. This does not mean, however, that WtW programs are always distinct from TANF, since many PICs and CBOs are also service providers for TANF work programs.
The delivery of services is highly decentralized.  Most WtW grant programs operate at multiple offices and locations, rather than serving individuals in one central location, even when a single program model is being followed.

The rest of the report is divided into five sections. Section A presents background information on the design of the evaluation and the policy context of the evaluation. Sections B through E address four basic questions about the early structure and operational experience of the WtW program:

  1. What is the general status of the WtW program implementation nationwide?  What federal WtW funds have been distributed?  How are local WtW programs using the federal funds to complement state welfare reform programs?  How did program startup progress?
  2. How are local WtW programs being structured?  What agencies are involved?  What interagency collaboration exists?
  3. What services are being offered?  What program models are being developed, and what populations are targeted?
  4. What innovations and challenges are evident?  What issues influenced implementation, and how have they been addressed?  What potentially promising approaches are being tried?