Evaluating Two Approaches to Case Management: Implementation, Participation Patterns, Costs, and Three-Year Impacts of the Columbus Welfare-to-Work Program. Historical Context of Integrated and Traditional Case Management


The idea of administering income maintenance together with employment services and other social services is not new.(4) After the Social Security Amendments of 1962, which increased federal compensation to state welfare agencies for administrative costs related to social services, most states adopted what was called a casework model. Welfare departments hired caseworkers to review applications for welfare and to attempt to "rehabilitate" recipients so that they would become self-supporting.(5) Proponents of the casework model believed that it would let welfare staff show concern for recipients during the course of income maintenance discussions and respond to problems, and make it easier for recipients to request services.

Critics of the model questioned its effectiveness and philosophical underpinnings.(6) In many states, staff members hired to perform casework were not professionally trained and did not know what to look for or how to confront recipients about the problems they observed. Few "hard" services, such as job training, placement assistance, or substance abuse treatment, were provided. Professional social workers argued that "the money function disables or overwhelms the social services."(7) Conservative lawmakers in Congress feared that liberal caseworkers authorized benefits to which individuals were not entitled. Welfare rights and civil rights groups objected to the assumption that welfare recipients needed rehabilitation and attacked the home visits as an invasion of privacy. Responding to these criticisms, in 1967 the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) issued a directive that urged states to reorganize the administration of their welfare programs by creating separate line agencies to determine welfare eligibility and provide social services.(8)

The 1967 Work Incentive (WIN) program directed some AFDC recipients to participate in employment-related activities and provided funding for services including job counseling and placement, work experience, and on-the-job training. The WIN program fostered the separation of income maintenance and employment services because of its joint administration by HEW and the U.S. Department of Labor. This administrative structure was replicated at the state and local levels in all but two states, resulting in a system in which welfare staff generally referred recipients outside the income maintenance office to employment security agencies for WIN assessment and services.(9)

By the 1970s, the separation of social services and employment services from income maintenance left most welfare offices focused on determining eligibility, authorizing welfare grants, and distributing welfare checks. Many agencies that once recruited college graduates to do casework downgraded the income maintenance role to a clerical level. A goal of minimizing AFDC payment errors replaced the previous decade's goal of rehabilitating welfare recipients. The federal and state governments invested in automated systems that could calculate grant amounts, approve benefits, and send out checks and other notices. Although many welfare agencies became efficient at these tasks, the welfare system remained unpopular with most recipients, taxpayers, and politicians.(10) The WIN program was also criticized for failing to provide effective employment-related services and to enforce a meaningful participation requirement.(11)

During the 1980s, Congress and HHS attempted to increase work among welfare recipients and reduce welfare receipt but did not try to change or redefine the role of the line worker in local welfare agencies.(12) To the contrary, the federal government gave state welfare agencies more authority to determine how their welfare-to-work programs would be administered. The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 gave state welfare agencies the option of running their WIN programs themselves rather than in cooperation with employment security agencies.(13) The FSA of 1988, which created the JOBS program, made state welfare agencies directly accountable for enrolling welfare recipients in education and work-related services. Under the JOBS program, states were required to develop a coordinated system of service delivery that would involve many public institutions working together on behalf of welfare recipients: welfare agencies, employment security offices, Job Training Partnership Act systems, public schools, and community or state colleges.

Because JOBS involved a brokered model of service delivery and states had to meet minimum participation rates among JOBS-mandatory welfare recipients, case management emerged as a central feature of most states' programs. Typical case management responsibilities included the following: assessing welfare recipients' employability, placing recipients in appropriate services, arranging support services such as child care, overseeing participation in JOBS activities, and initiating financial sanctions for those who did not follow JOBS rules.(14) Most states continued to separate income maintenance and employment-related services, although a 1992 survey found that 17 states operated programs in which JOBS case managers performed an integrated income maintenance and JOBS role.(15) (As this report was being prepared, information was not yet available on the number of states that have elected to combine or separate income maintenance and employment services under the PRWORA.)

Both case management approaches can be argued to have certain advantages and disadvantages. The separation of income maintenance from employment and training tasks allows each staff member to specialize in a particular role. It can also allow the employment services case managers to develop a distinct and often more prestigious professional identity. Common criticisms of this model are that a lack of coordination between income maintenance and employment and training services may prevent the quick enrollment of welfare recipients in work activities or may hinder the imposition of penalties on individuals who do not comply with work participation requirements.

By combining the income maintenance and employment and training roles in one position, the integrated approach eliminates failures in communication between staff members. Integration also allows staff to quickly emphasize the importance of employment. Two prominent welfare scholars have suggested that integration may change the "eligibility-compliance culture" of the average welfare office to a "self-sufficiency culture"  that is, one that structures "interactions and expectations around work and preparation for work, with most of the attention of clients and workers devoted to moving off welfare rather than to validating the credentials for staying on it."(16) A common criticism of integrated case management, however, is that the two functions may overwhelm staff members, and, because they must deal with welfare payments each month, this may lead them to pay less attention to employment and training.