Early Implementation of the Welfare-to-Work Grants Program: Findings From Exploratory Site Visits and Review of Program Plans. Logistical Issues Between TANF and WtW Grant Programs Had to Be Resolved

02/01/2000

The exploratory site visits revealed that WtW grant programs interact with TANF agencies in a variety of ways, and that logistical issues arising from these interactions are still being resolved. These issues arise from the way in which WtW programs are expected to relate to the TANF program. WtW grant programs are intended to supplement, not duplicate, TANF work programs. They have to be implemented within the policy context of TANF work requirements and policies. While the WtW grant-funded programs are administered separately from TANF, their target populations overlap to a large extent. Cross-agency procedural issues have emerged concerning three related aspects of WtW operations: (1) referral of individuals from the TANF program to the WtW program, (2) outreach to the WtW eligible population, and (3) the specification of WtW services and program reporting to ensure that WtW participants are in compliance with TANF work requirements.

Referrals from TANF.  WtW grantees generally expect to get most of their participants by referral from TANF agencies, and many have been disappointed by the rate of referrals so far. The first grantee survey showed that 98 percent of grantees were expecting to get such referrals, and almost half expected to get 75 to 100 percent of their referrals from TANF agencies. Every one of the 22 grantees visited expects the TANF agency to be a primary source for recruitment, and, in a few sites, the only source. Grantees that depend heavily or exclusively on referrals from the TANF agency have received fewer referrals than they had anticipated or planned in collaboration with the TANF agency. These low referral rates could be the result of several factors.

One contributing factor perceived by staff in many of the WtW programs is the effect of performance goals for TANF work programs. Some grantee staff believe that staff responsible for TANF work programs  in the TANF agencies or the agencies' work program contractors  are reluctant to refer to outside programs because they must meet their own targets for enrollment, service delivery, and job placement. Although a contractor for a TANF work program could legitimately count as its enrollee someone it refers to the WtW program, the contractor could justifiably be concerned about whether it would be credited at all with the eventual job placement made though the WtW program. The exploratory visits identified instances in which such reluctance to "pass on" participants was evident. This concern is understandable, given the pressures program operators and their staff face to meet their program goals as TANF caseloads continue to decline.

Lack of information about WtW programs is also a factor in some instances. In some communities, the WtW grant program is only one of many programs available to TANF recipients, and even the WtW grant program may have a variety of activities or components. TANF staff often have incomplete information about programs in their community, or better information about one program than others. Several WtW program staff identified as one of their challenges the need to convey clearly to TANF staff how the WtW program differs in its intensity, duration, range of services, and supportiveness from other job readiness and job search programs in the community. Without a strong understanding of program differences, TANF staff may not consistently feel that the WtW program is the best option for TANF recipients, even when their serious employment barriers have been detected.

The fact that the normal path to WtW programs often leads through a TANF work program can also curb entries to the WtW program, even when TANF staff are ready to make referrals to it. In many of the 22 sites examined in the exploratory visits, up-front job search is required of TANF recipients, and only those who fail to find a job in that process are considered for referral to the WtW program. In today's strong economy, knowing that staying on TANF eats into their allowable lifetime months of assistance, some TANF recipients find a way to leave the rolls and enter employment rather than enter yet another program, even if it might improve their long-term employment and earnings prospects.

Outreach to the WtW-Eligible Population.  Many WtW programs take an active approach to recruiting participants, rather than simply relying on the TANF agency to provide a stream of referrals. In nearly all the sites visited, a common starting point for such recruitment is for the welfare agency to provide lists of TANF recipients whom the welfare agency considers eligible for WtW services. WtW staff or contracted service providers may then use the list to contact and attempt to recruit these recipients by mail, telephone, or in person.

Such lists are helpful, but often incomplete. In some places, the list does not include all TANF recipients eligible for WtW services. For example, the list may include only recipients whose current spell on welfare is longer than 30 months, or only those who are not exempt from the TANF work requirement, or only those who meet both conditions. Some state procedures, in effect, have modified WtW eligibility criteria to make them consistent with state welfare reform policies. The list of eligibles sent to WtW, for example, often consists of people the TANF agency will allow to participate in WtW as a means of complying with TANF work requirements. Other TANF recipients, however  such as persons exempt from TANF work requirements  may also be eligible for WtW even though they do not appear on the list. The lists TANF agencies send to WtW programs may thus be useful starting points for identifying eligible participants, but they are not exhaustive. Many WtW program administrators and staff are now conducting their own outreach, recruitment, and initial eligibility determination, as well as receiving referrals and lists from TANF agencies, in an effort to meet their WtW enrollment targets.

Ensuring Compliance with TANF Work Requirements.  Regardless of whether individuals enter WtW through referral from TANF or as a result of direct outreach, WtW programs and staff are particularly sensitive to TANF work requirements. Many of the programs we visited have been designed specifically to ensure that participants are in compliance with TANF work requirements. For example, if TANF policies require 30 hours of work activity a week, WtW program components consist of 30 hours a week of activity, such as work experience, that will be accepted by the TANF agency as complying with the work requirement. Supplemental services, such as education or skills development, are often provided as well, but the program's core WtW component has been structured to ensure that individuals who participate as required are not subject to TANF sanctions.

WtW programs also have to report to TANF agencies on their participants' activities to ensure that they avoid TANF sanctions. In all 22 sites, arrangements have been made for the WtW program to report participant activities and attendance back to the TANF agency. In places where the WtW program operator also has responsibility for the TANF work program, this reporting of compliance with the work requirement is done routinely for all TANF recipients, regardless of funding source.