Fixing to Change: A Best Practices Assessment of One-Stop Job Centers Working With Welfare Recipients. Successful Models


It is important to note that in our national scan for successful models, we found very few One-Stop systems that had been operating for a period of time in large urban areas. Most of those that we did find were either overshadowed in their purported success by other sites within the same state, were simply too new to be usefully assessed, or did not sufficiently focus their services on welfare recipients.(11) Our sample of One-Stop models thus contains only one system in a major metropolitan area, Tarrant County (Fort Worth).

We infer from this experience that the One-Stop concept may be easier to implement, and in some cases, more appropriate to smaller metropolitan areas and rural business centers.  In many of these areas, One-Stop models may have emerged in part because it is easier to identify the appropriate institutions and resources for inclusion and exercise local leadership, without the complex systems and often overlapping constituencies and politics associated with human services in larger urban areas. However, the difficulty in establishing a One-Stop system may not reflect on the system's success, once established. As a result, it simply may be necessary to wait longer to evaluate the success of the One-Stop model in major urban labor markets.

In all of the sites visited, it was clear that established One-Stop systems have all had to address a similar set of challenges. Inclusion of partners, co-location or coordinated system approach, technology and data systems, facility management, contracting out -- all of these issues must be addressed and agreed to by multiple agencies for the One-Stop to be successful. To some degree, the "success" of a local One-Stop may depend on how long it has been working at resolving these issues, allowing the system to evolve as institutions and partners learn from their interaction and adapt to changes in federal and state policies and programs.

  • Service Integration and the Retention of Clients: Generally, it appeared that the greater the level of service integration, the better the One-Stop was able to retain clients after orientation. Of the five One-Stop models examined, the Kenosha County Job Center has been in operation the longest and has achieved the greatest service integration. With on-site registration for TANF and combined orientation to TANF and JOBS, the Job Center has minimized the potential for clients to slip through the cracks and fail to receive the service they need. Of course, some families are served via one-time diversion assistance, while others are able to secure other economic support services such as Food Stamps, health care, and/or child care assistance at the same facility. Still, nearly half of potential clients choose not to show up for the orientation, although the fall-off rate drops considerably after the orientation.

    This pattern is not uncommon in the other models, and may be even more pronounced when clients register for TANF at one location and are then referred to the One-Stop for employment related services. In Marshalltown and Bellingham, the decision to separate the location of these services was intentional. Site managers emphasized the need to be clear that the purpose of the One-Stop was to emphasize the employment objective, and to avoid confusing the message about why clients were there. In Bellingham, staff noted that the lack of co-location creates a "teachable moment," i.e., an opportunity to help clients develop the skills for getting from place to place. Marshalltown site managers estimated that roughly 40 percent of TANF referrals to PROMISE JOBS have been through the process before but dropped out.

    Both Tarrant County and Traverse City have plans to co-locate with their respective TANF administrative agencies, thus increasing the level of integration between welfare and employment services available through the One-Stop. While these moves are not seen as a panacea, managers at both sites felt that the difficulties in coordinating employment services for their TANF clients could be eased through co-location, and they were looking forward to including economic services case workers in their data networks.

  • Welfare vs. Employment Services: Co-location of welfare and employment services seems to offer significant net benefits for TANF clients and may improve relationships with welfare caseworkers. Some of the most negative comments by current and previous One-Stop welfare clients were reserved for TANF/economic services case workers in sites where these services were not co-located. TANF clients frequently contrasted the services they received at the One-Stop as supportive, encouraging, and customer friendly as compared with the more hostile environment of the welfare office. This contrast is not entirely surprising given that TANF caseworkers are tasked with the responsibility of determining the availability and amount of cash benefits. However, in most cases, One-Stop case workers have an equally unpopular task, that of sanctioning or reporting for sanction those welfare clients who have failed to meet their work requirements. This suggests that the need to play the role of benefit gatekeeper does not completely explain why One-Stop caseworkers seem to have a better relationship with their clients compared to TANF caseworkers.

    The contrast between client perceptions of welfare and employment case workers was not entirely absent in Kenosha, but was dramatically lower. Case workers and clients talked openly of their efforts to work through other staff members of a given service delivery team to ease tensions and work out solutions to the benefit of clients. These discussions reinforce what appear to be significant benefits from co-location with the TANF agency, namely an improvement in relations between welfare case workers and their clients, fewer opportunities for clients to fall between the cracks, and an improvement, or at least a perceived improvement in the quality of client service.

    In some respects, co-location can be thought of as the sharing of political or institutional capital of employment agencies with welfare agencies. The symbolism of applying for TANF benefits at the Job Center may have a net positive value for welfare recipients and the general public. By contrast, we saw no evidence of any negative stigma associated with co-location for traditional, non-welfare clients of employment service agencies. This issue is often raised as a potential concern, especially with organized labor constituencies of employment service agencies, but it is clearly the belief of the Kenosha managers that there is no negative stigma associated with seeking employment services in the same location where welfare clients receive services. Of course, the potential for this negative association is also diminished by the use of call centers to administer Unemployment Insurance benefits - which Wisconsin had fully implemented and other states were moving toward. In Bellingham, the staff noted that co-location would probably be to the benefit of TANF clients, especially younger clients.

  • Achieving Self-Sufficiency: It is not clear that any of the One-Stop models reviewed has had the resources to reliably expect that clients will achieve self-sufficiency. The experiences of the five One-Stop models is mixed in terms of improving the prospects of welfare families for achieving self-sufficiency. Most of the tracking information kept by these systems rarely goes beyond required 90-day follow-ups for JTPA and JOBS participants, hardly long enough to capture the long term self-sufficiency prospects for participants. None of the models has developed a follow-up prevention strategy to help families avoid returning to welfare, or to actively connect them to ongoing education and training activities once they leave JOBS and stop collecting welfare benefits. Several managers lamented the lack of resources for such efforts, while others noted the difficulties facing many single parents trying to pursue ongoing skill development when current wages and support programs are barely sufficient to make ends meet now.

    Nonetheless, informal ongoing support does take place as the personal bonds between clients and employment services staff are retained. In many cases, these are relationships developed over the course of several months, often when a client is completing an education or training program, working part time, and continuing to receive cash assistance. In rural communities and relatively small metropolitan areas, it is not difficult to maintain these relationships over time, but may be much more difficult in larger urban areas.

    While each of the One-Stop programs emphasizes the need for clients to develop a career plan, the philosophy and approach to implementing that plan varies considerably. For example, in Traverse City and Bellingham, clients are typically urged to "take a job, any job" and work their way up from there. In Marshalltown, case workers are emphatic in insisting that clients set their own goals, and then worked with them to help make their goals realistic and to chart a path toward them -- a path which frequently includes community college training. In Kenosha, labor market data systems (using touch screen technology) are used to help clients develop a realistic understanding of the opportunities in the local market, but they are urged to apply only for the jobs they want. Employment specialists there argue that this approach helps boost job retention, and in a tight labor market it is a viable option for many clients. Each of these strategies can create a path to long term self-sufficiency, though it is not at all clear which is the most effective, or appropriate to the individual circumstance.