Further Progress, Persistent Constraints: Findings From a Second Survey of the Welfare-to-Work Grants Program. Introduction

06/01/2000

A major federally funded initiative has been unfolding over the past two years to move welfare recipients and other low-income Americans into employment. In 1997, the Balanced Budget Act (BBA) authorized the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to award $3 billion in Welfare-to-Work (WtW) grants to states and local organizations. These grants support efforts, over a three-year period, to help the hardest-to-employ recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), as well as certain noncustodial parents, to prepare for employment, find jobs, and stay employed. The WtW grants program builds on the earlier enactment, in 1996, of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), which created the work-focused, time-limited TANF program. Whereas PRWORA was designed to increase movement off the welfare rolls into employment, WtW grants provide targeted resources for state and local efforts to help individuals facing the most serious challenges make that transition.

This report documents the continuing progress of the WtW grants program's implementation, as part of a comprehensive congressionally mandated evaluation being conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).(1) In part, the evaluation focuses on a set of in-depth study sites where detailed analyses of program operations and participant outcomes are being conducted.(2) In addition, the evaluation includes a broad survey of all WtW grantees designed to provide an overall description of program structure, sponsorship, target populations, services provided, scale of operations, outcomes achieved, and challenges encountered.(3) To capture changes that unfold as implementation advances, the survey has been conducted twice. Results of the first survey, conducted in late 1998, have already been presented (Perez-Johnson and Hershey 1999). This report is based on the second survey, conducted in late 1999.

The second grantee survey found signs of implementation progress. It also found, however, that the original WtW eligibility criteria continued to constrain enrollment, since congressional action to expand the eligible population had not, at the time of the survey, taken effect. Other findings suggest some changes in the ways grantees are operating, but confirm many of the findings of the first survey. The main findings from this second survey are as follows:

Summary Findings from the Second Survey of WtW Grantees
  • WtW program implementation has advanced, but participation levels still lag. Most grantees, except recently funded ones, are now delivering services and are operating at a somewhat larger scale than observed in the first survey a year earlier. However, restrictive eligibility rules still in effect in late 1999 continued to impede enrollment; as a result, the average pace of enrollment has not increased. Placements in employment activities are also slower than projected. Organizations that emphasize serving noncustodial parents appear to be having special recruitment challenges.
  • The scale at which WtW programs are projected to operate remains modest. Although, on average, second survey respondents have received more WtW funds than respondents a year ago, they have formulated more conservative participation targets. They are also less likely to combine WtW funds with funds from other sources to operate their programs — especially JTPA and TANF. These adjustments appear to reflect mainly the enrollment difficulties encountered to date; despite the declines in TANF rolls and WtW enrollment difficulties, survey respondents perceived no decline in overall need for WtW services.
  • Grantees emphasize unsubsidized employment but set realistic placement goals. An unsubsidized job is the ultimate outcome grantees want for all participants, but grantees clearly expect some program attrition and have some reservations about availability of jobs; they anticipate placing somewhat less than half of all enrollees in unsubsidized employment. Supported work activities of various types are envisioned by grantees as an interim step for roughly two-thirds of the participants they ultimately expect to place in unsubsidized jobs.
  • Most placements to date have been in low-wage, service occupations. Grantees have moved expeditiously to place WtW participants once they are enrolled. Grantees have made about a quarter of their projected placements — over 50,000 — in various work activities. Most placements are in service and administrative support positions that participants can get even with limited skills and poor work history. However, participants' placement wages average just $6.81 per hour, and opportunities for advancement are often limited.

The remainder of this report presents the survey findings in greater detail. Chapter II updates earlier findings on grantees' organizational and programmatic structure, the implementation status of WtW grantee programs, and the types of services they provide. Chapter III describes the population being served by WtW programs, how they are being recruited, and grantees' success in fulfilling their enrollment goals. Chapter IV focuses on the work activities of participants and the pace at which grantees are progressing toward their placement targets. Chapter V summarizes the views of grantees about the progress they are making and the challenges they are facing, as expressed in their survey responses. As background for presentation of these findings, the remainder of this introduction first summarizes the policy and economic context for the WtW program, changes in the WtW program itself, the overall evaluation design, and the survey that serves as the main data source for this report.

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