Early Implementation of the Welfare-to-Work Grants Program: Report to Congress. Grantee Views on Early Implementation


The first evaluation survey provided a limited opportunity to gauge how program parameters and the economy in which grantees are operating might affect implementation and the overall importance of the program.  A mail questionnaire sent to grantees starting a new program must avoid creating an unreasonable burden on them, so only a narrow set of questions could be explored.  Moreover, their basis for responding to these questions is, in most cases, just a brief period of program operation and, in some cases, only a sense of what they will encounter when they actually begin their programs.

We therefore focused on exploring grantees' early views on four issues, identified from in­depth discussions with some grantees as the survey instrument was being developed:

  • How adequate  and how critical  are WtW funds to the task of helping the target population move toward sustained employment?
  • To what extent are employers open to hiring the WtW target population?
  • How well do the legislative provisions specifying WtW eligibility criteria correspond to the characteristics of the hard­to­employ population that is the intended target for WtW services?
  • To what extent are WtW programs already having some effect?

The survey explored grantee views on these issues by posing six statements and asking respondents to indicate whether their agreement with the statements was high, medium, or low (Table F.1).  Four salient findings can be gleaned from their responses.

Funding is sufficient for defined program objectives but may not be enough for the larger challenge.  Grantee responses to the first three statements, relating to funding adequacy, at first appear contradictory.  Very few grantees (4.4 percent) agreed strongly that there were adequate resources in their area to help the target WtW population before the program was initiated, but more than three­quarters (76.6 percent) agreed moderately or strongly that the level of funding they are receiving will suffice to provide WtW services.  However, more than half of the respondents moderately or strongly agreed with the statement that there are more people in the target population than they can serve.

This apparent contradiction may arise from the difference between grantees' realistic program plans and their sense of the larger challenge of improving employment outcomes for the segment of the population with severe disadvantages.  Discussions with a limited number of grantees, and the modest enrollment achieved to date, suggest that many grantees and their local partners are facing unexpected difficulties in identifying, referring, and actually enrolling the numbers of participants they had planned to serve.  Although welfare rolls have shrunk dramatically, there remain in many grantees' service areas large numbers of TANF recipients who appear to fall within the defined target population.  In many instances, WtW programs appear to be designed and funded at a level to serve just a portion of this target population, perhaps because of expectations that many will leave TANF on their own or through "work first" interventions that precede intake to WtW programs.  Grantees may thus be convinced that overall needs for help in moving from welfare to work exceed the number that will be served in their WtW programs.  At the same time, the slow pace of early enrollment may lead many grantees to believe that their grant budgets will be adequate, since they are struggling to find and enroll the numbers of people they projected serving.


(Percentage of Responding Grantees)

  Level of Agreement
Statementa High Medium Low
Resources were adequate without WtW funds.  "Resources for services to groups identified as eligible in the federal WtW statute were adequate in our area even without WTW funds." 4.4 21.7 73.9
WtW funding is adequate.  "It appears there will be adequate funding available to provide needed WtW services in our local service area." 39.5 37.1 23.4
Need exceeds WtW funds.  "There are many more people in our defined target groups than we will be able to serve even with federal WtW funds." 23.7 30.8 45.5
WtW eligibility criteria are too restrictive.  "The WtW eligibility rules sometimes exclude people who are truly among the hard­to­employ but who cannot meet all the required criteria specified in the WtW statute." 66.4 23.6 10.0
WtW funding is already having an effect.  "Federal WtW funding is already having a substantial effect moving the hard­to­employ into employment."  4.1 14.1 81.8
Employer demand is strong.  "There is strong demand among local employers for the people our WtW program will be placing in employment." 14.9 49.9 35.2
Source:  National Evaluation of the Welfare­to­Work Grants Program, First Grantee Survey (November 1998­February 1999).

a The text of the statement as it appeared in the survey questionnaire is enclosed in quotation marks.  The bold­font statement is added here to highlight in simple language the point that respondents confirmed or rejected.

Restrictive eligibility criteria are contributing to enrollment difficulties.  A clear theme from the survey data and from more in­depth contacts with WtW grantees is that many believe the specific combination of legislated eligibility criteria defining the population on which 70 percent of WtW funds must be spent is too restrictive.  Ninety percent of grantees agreed moderately or strongly that these criteria exclude some people from their programs who truly fall within a group that has serious barriers to employment success.  This issue elicited the most consistent views among the set of issues about implementation posed in the survey.

Discussions with grantees suggest that, for at least some, the restrictiveness of the eligibility criteria is contributing to the slow pace of early program enrollment.  Grantees have reported, for example, that some prospective participants referred to them from the TANF caseload or other sources meet the broad description of "hard to employ" but fail to meet the specific criteria stated in the legislation.  A commonly cited example is individuals who fail to meet the "education and skill deficit" criterion because they have low math or reading skills but had received a high school diploma or GED.1  Such individuals may have a poor work history, but would be eligible for WtW services only if they also have a substance abuse problem that requires treatment.  The grantee or another organization might serve such individuals using other funding sources (such as JTPA or the TANF block grant), but those sources may not cover the particular package of services in the WtW program.2

WtW programs are too new to offer evidence of success.  Two­thirds of the survey respondents began delivering services under their WtW grants in the last quarter of 1998 or in 1999, and 87 percent began after July 1, 1998.  At the time of the survey, therefore, grantees had been operating their WtW services for no more than four to six months, and many had just begun.  It is thus not surprising that 82 percent of the grantees refrained from asserting that their programs had already had substantial effects on moving participants into employment.3

Employment opportunities are viewed as strong.  Grantees' success in moving participants into jobs obviously depends on the readiness of employers in their local areas to hire, and specifically to hire the relatively low­skilled and inexperienced individuals who will be participating in WtW programs.  Employer demand for WtW participants does indeed appear strong, as judged by the grantees; almost two­thirds of grantees moderately or strongly agreed.  This strong demand, however, may also be contributing to the slow pace of enrollment in WtW programs, to the extent that employers are as willing to hire members of the programs' target population directly as through program placement services.