Fixing to Change: A Best Practices Assessment of One-Stop Job Centers Working With Welfare Recipients. Tarrant County Resource Connection Career Center, Fort Worth, TX

03/01/1999

Tarrant County has the sixth highest population density in Texas, with an employed population of just over 700,000. The southeastern quadrant of the county (where the Resource Connection is located) contains 4 zip codes that accounted for 44 percent of calls to the United Way Call for Help line in 1996. This area also has 4 of the 7 zip code areas with the highest concentrations of mandatory work participation clients.

  • State Workforce System: Texas has a history of workforce program coordination and collocation dating back to the 1970s, but the evolution of its current system started in 1993 with legislation calling for the creation of the Texas Council on Workforce and Economic Competitiveness. Once established in 1995, this Council replaced 5 advisory bodies, taking responsibility for planning, developing, and evaluating an integrated workforce system. The Council provides the overall development goals and policies which guide the Texas Workforce Commission, which was established in 1996 as a "super agency" responsible for administering workforce development programs. The Commission consolidated the workforce programs from 8 different state agencies, including Unemployment Insurance and most employment services, JTPA and literacy programs, adult education and apprenticeship training, post-secondary vocational and technical training, JOBS and Food Stamp Employment and Training, school-to-work planning, senior citizen employment, child care, and community service activities. State legislation called for the establishment of One-Stop Career Centers and encouraged the formation of local workforce development boards, but allowed local areas to retain separate advisory and governing boards such as PICs and Job Service Employer Committees. Job training funds were also converted to block grants to local boards.
  • Welfare Reform: In November 1996, Texas implemented a new schedule of benefits under a five-year waiver which differs from the new Federal TANF rules. For parents with a GED, high school diploma or at least 18 months of work experience, benefits are limited to one year. For those with 6 to 17 months of work experience or 11th grade education (but no GED or diploma), benefits are limited to two years. Parents with no GED and less than an 11th grade education could receive up to 4 years of benefits. Anyone with work experience in 18 out of the past 24 months receives only one year of benefits before work is required. All welfare recipients are required to participate in the Texas JOBS program; those who fail to participate are subject to a $78/month sanction (from an average benefit rate of $188/month). However, any single parent with a child under age 5 is exempt from JOBS participation and work requirements as long as they are not teenagers. Persons who are disabled or do not have reliable transportation are also exempt. This schedule of benefits suggests that the least skilled parents and those with young children tend to have the fewest immediate incentives for engaging the Center's resources. At the time of our site visit, some parents had been sanctioned but in general, the time limits had not yet really taken effect.
  • Local Economy: The Fort Worth area's economy received several shocks during the early and mid-1990s, with the closure of Carswell Air Force Base, the loss of some primary industries and several major defense contracts. However, by early 1997, the economy had responded vigorously and unemployment in Tarrant County had fallen to 3.9 percent, compared with a statewide unemployment rate of 5.4 percent. Employers actively participating in the Resource Connection tend to be concentrated among hospital, hotel, and electronic technology industries, with strong demands for housekeeping, janitorial, entry level clerical, data entry, and electronic assembly and technician jobs.
  • Location and Physical Space: The Resource Connection is located on a 92-acre campus just outside of the beltway on the south side of Fort Worth. The site is in the middle of a 270-acre campus that was formerly used by the Fort Worth State School for individuals with mental retardation. The South Campus of the Tarrant County Junior College is nearby, and adjacent lands are either vacant or used for low income housing, commercial and industrial purposes. The Resource Connection campus contains 14 buildings, 2 of which are used for support purposes and the remainder (each with approximately 39,000 square feet) have been renovated to house the various collocated partners. The Texas Department of Human Services is currently constructing a new administrative building on the campus; at the time of our visit, this agency was not collocated. All of the partners/buildings on campus are linked using common computerized intake and referral system that operates on a state of the art local area computer network.
  • General Concept: The Resource Connection Career Center reflects remarkable local leadership in establishing a significant infrastructure for interagency collocation and collaboration. The conversion of the state school -- closed by court order -- into the site for the Resource Connection is a demonstration of turning crisis into opportunity. The Resource Connection Career Center is one of seven one-stop job centers in Tarrant County, yet this site offers a much broader array of partner connections than any other. At the time of our visit, only about 27 percent of welfare recipients were subject to mandatory job search and benefit cutoffs had not yet taken full effect. As a result, there was a general sense that the facility was still new and its capacity somewhat underutilized. However, the staff seemed to be experienced at working with a client base that has a disproportionate share of longer term welfare recipients.
  • Texas JOBS Program: Welfare recipients subject to mandatory work search are referred by the Department of Human Services to the Texas Workforce Commission JOBS facilitator at the Resource Connection Career Center. Clients work with career counselors and employment resource specialists to assess the steps they will need to take in order to transition into work. Depending on the needs of the client, integrated case management is sometimes used as a means of providing the best cross-section of services to the individual. The JOBS case manager provides comprehensive employment and training services, and assists clients in referrals to appropriate resources for increasing education and job related skills. Staff have developed several special programs for JOBS clients. One of the most popular is a two-hour resume workshop conducted by Tarrant County Employment Network staff. Another is a life-skills training program offered by an on-site social worker. This two-day program is offered twice a month, and covers topics such as resume writing, interviewing skills, conflict management, job retention, and budgeting.
  • Partners: The Memorandum of Understanding that establishes the organizational framework for the Resource Connection Career Center identifies 14 partner agencies:
    • Dallas Inter-tribal Center, Employment and Training Office
    • Fort Worth Independent School District
    • Goodwill Industries of Fort Worth
    • Resource Connection Welcome Center
    • Tarrant County Community Supervision and Corrections
    • Tarrant County Department of Human Services
    • Tarrant County Employment Network
    • Tarrant County Junior College
    • Tarrant County Veterans Services
    • Texas Department of Human Services
    • Texas Rehabilitation Commission
    • Texas Workforce Commission
    • The Working Connection MASTERS Program
    • UTA Educational Opportunities Center

    The Welcome Center is responsible for intake and initial referral of clients. The Tarrant County Employment Network staffs the job search resource room and provides most of the employment services functions. The Texas Workforce Commission staffs the basic labor exchange services, including computerized job matching services. Adult education is provided by the Fort Worth Independent School District, and vocational evaluation and training is provided by Goodwill Industries.

  • Services: Service delivery begins at the Welcome Center, which is staffed by a multi-agency team of information resource specialists and counselors. A Resource Room is available to drop-in customers and provides access to the Internet and an automated resource and referral network provided through local United Way. Individuals have access to a variety of services through the Resource Connection Career Center, including:
    • Dislocated worker training,
    • Veterans services
    • Job placement and career counseling,
    • Vocational aptitude and interest assessment,
    • Vocational training workshops,
    • Career resource library,
    • Phone, fax and computer facilities,
    • Employer resource room,
    • Adult and youth learning centers,
    • Unemployment compensation,
    • Job readiness and job search seminars and workshops,
    • JOBS,
    • Case management and counseling.
  • Data Systems and Fiscal Planning: The Resource Connection has implemented a computerized intake and referral system with advanced, easy to use interface. All partner agencies are connected to the system through a local area network that using software developed by Data Systems International that has been customized to the agencies and site.

    Tarrant County is the lead agency in the Resource Connection and as such, has lead responsibility for most management functions, including contracting, tenant selection, rents, and hiring the Resource Connection Executive Director. The Resource Connection Advisory Board -- responsible for policy, community relations, and major financial development strategy -- is composed of 8 members, including the County Judge and/or one Commissioner.(42) Partner agencies were responsible for their rehabilitation costs for their own facilities. Operation of the physical plant is funded via leases with participating anchor agencies, including maintenance, utilities, administration, and a sinking fund/contingency fund assessment. No comprehensive budget is maintained; individual agencies retain responsibility for financing services and other operating costs.