How Effective Are Different Welfare-to-Work Approaches? Five-Year Adult and Child Impacts for Eleven Programs. Degree of Participation Mandate Enforcement

12/01/2001

In addition to the messages about work and education that case managers send to clients and the relative mix of services that a program provides, the degree to which a program enforces a participation mandate has also been shown to affect program impacts. The three elements of enforcement include the broadness with which a program enrolls from its caseload, how well it monitors participants' progress, and how strictly the participation requirements are enforced. In other words, a high or low ranking indicates the likelihood that a client would be told to participate, the likelihood that her case manager would know if she had not been participating, and how swiftly or surely she would be sanctioned for not participating. Nine of the 11 NEWWS programs were "high enforcement" programs; that is, they were rated the equivalent of "high" on at least two of the three elements. Two programs, Detroit and Oklahoma City, were rated the equivalent of "low" on all three elements of enforcement. (See Table 1.3.)

The rest of this section describes how each program was rated with respect to the enforcement of the participation mandate. Within each element of enforcement sites are listed in a rough rank order, from high to low. A number of factors can contribute to a program's overall ranking on an element; a site may be high on one but low on others, but these factors have not been formally weighted.

1. Broadness of Enrollment

How likely was it that an individual would have been required to participate in the welfare-to-work programs?(17)

Single parents with children aged 3 or over were required to participate in all programs studied in this evaluation, with some programs requiring participation of women with children as young as age 1. Individuals who had health barriers or were taking care of a household member who was ill or incapacitated, were pregnant, or were already working 30 hours per week could be exempted from this mandate.(18)

At a number of points, administrator and case manager discretion, combined with funding and resource constraints, could affect a welfare applicant's or recipient's chances of enrolling in a welfare-to-work program. First, five of the programs required women with children as young as age 1 to enroll. Since over 40 percent of the welfare cases nationwide in 1994 included a child under age 3,(19) expanding the mandate to this group significantly increased the proportion of the caseload that could be served by the program. Second, case managers might not tell all of those who meet the demographic criteria to enroll. Third, individuals might not show up for the program orientation because they do not wish to participate or they become exempt or leave welfare in the period between referral and orientation date, especially if the period is long.(20) Finally, even recipients who attend an orientation could be deferred from future activities at case managers' discretion.(21)

The Grand Rapids LFA and HCD, Columbus Integrated and Traditional, and Riverside LFA and HCD programs enrolled broadly, including virtually their entire mandatory caseload.(22) Both of the Grand Rapids programs included parents with children as young as age 1 in their participation mandate.

The Atlanta LFA and HCD programs aimed to enroll their entire mandatory caseloads; however, budget limitations created a waiting list, sometimes as long as six months, before those who had been referred to the program could actually enroll. During a waiting period welfare recipients with the fewest barriers to work leave the rolls on their own; thus, the clients who actually enroll may be slightly more disadvantaged than they would be if there were no waiting list.(23) Indeed, the Atlanta sample includes more long-term recipients than samples in most other sites. Because the Atlanta programs did refer virtually all members of their mandatory population to the program, and enrolled all those who were left after the delay, their enrollment is termed "broad-delayed" in Table 1.3.

The Portland program extended its mandate to parents of very young children (as young as age 1), but selectively enrolled from its mandatory population. Some individuals determined "hard-to-serve," that is, less employable, either would not be referred for enrollment in the program or, after attending a program orientation, would not be assigned to further activities. For these reasons Portland can be considered moderately selective.

The Detroit and Oklahoma City programs also extended their mandate to women with very young children, but were more selective than other programs. Like Atlanta, Detroit had a waiting list for "slots" in the program. Guided by the principle that the program would rather spend scarce resources on those who wished to participate than on cajoling those who might never participate, staff tended to give priority to "mandatory" clients who volunteered for the program. In addition, case managers spent a large proportion of their time authorizing child care and support service payments, leaving little time to focus on individuals who were not eager to enroll. Oklahoma City referred all those eligible to its program; however, since the program was also limited by resources and rising caseloads, much of the responsibility for enrolling in program activities fell on the client. Case managers assisted clients in finding appropriate services, but the self-directed enrollment allowed resistant individuals to avoid the mandate. As discussed in Chapter 2, this evaluation examines only the experiences of individuals applying for welfare ("applicants") in the Oklahoma City program; the treatment of those already receiving welfare ("recipients") may have been different from the situation described here.

2. Closeness of Participation Monitoring

How often or how quickly would an enrollee be contacted by her case manager if she was not participating?

Once clients begin participating, they may drop out of activities or attend irregularly because they have a new job, have new problems with child care or transportation, or no longer want to participate. Close monitoring can help case managers maintain and increase participation among their caseload, facilitate the authorization of transitional benefits for individuals who leave welfare for work, or speed case closures for individuals who become ineligible. In order to monitor participation closely, case managers must learn about attendance problems from activity providers, determine the reasons for them, contact clients about their options or the consequences of nonparticipation, and then inform the income maintenance branch of a case's outcome. How closely an individual will be monitored depends on the level of information that case managers get from the activity instructors and providers and on the time that case managers have to devote to this task.

The Riverside LFA and HCD, Grand Rapids LFA and HCD, and Portland programs all intensively monitored their participants' progress. Overall, more case managers in these sites indicated receiving a lot more information about attendance from providers than those in most other sites. In addition, case managers reported that it took them between one and two weeks to both hear about attendance problems from providers and contact clients about their attendance, the shortest in the range of time among the programs.

The Atlanta LFA and HCD and Columbus Integrated programs engaged in moderate monitoring of their clients. Information sharing between providers and case managers was not as regular in these programs as in the intensive-monitoring programs, and it took between two and a half and three and a half weeks to get information from providers. These programs did, however, contact clients in less than two weeks once they learned of attendance problems.

The Oklahoma City, Detroit, and Columbus Traditional programs engaged in less intensive monitoring of their clients than the other programs. Regular protocols for obtaining attendance information from providers were not in place for at least two of the programs. It took a little longer, on average, for all three programs to get information from providers than it did for the moderate-monitoring programs. Moreover, it took between two and three weeks for case managers to contact clients about their attendance problems, on average one week longer than for the moderate-monitoring programs.

3. Level of Mandatoriness

How much would an individual be encouraged, or coerced through financial sanctions, to participate in a program activity if she did not want to?

The great majority of welfare recipients who are required to participate in welfare-to-work programs believe, prior to hearing details about the program, that they will have trouble participating, citing barriers such as a lack of child care or transportation or having a health or emotional problem.(24) All the programs in this evaluation provided monetary assistance to help participants (both program and control group members) with child care and transportation, but they also relied on case managers to work with clients to remove participation barriers or to coerce participation through the imposition of a financial sanction.(25) Most of the programs were strongly committed to enforcing the participation mandate for their welfare caseload, though the degree to which clients were more likely to be cajoled or coerced differed. Individuals in Detroit and Oklahoma City were not as likely to be cajoled into participating if they did not want to, though this was largely the consequence of limited program funding and staffing.

The Grand Rapids LFA and HCD and Columbus Integrated and Traditional programs were very highly committed to the enforcement of clients' participation obligation. Case managers sent strong messages about the consequences of nonparticipation and, in instances of noncompliance, imposed financial sanctions swiftly on a large percentage of their caseloads.

While other programs informed clients of the necessity of program participation, they gave them more chances to comply than Grand Rapids or Columbus. Atlanta LFA and HCD program case managers were somewhat less comfortable with enforcing participation requirements through financial sanctions, though they did so on a regular basis. More clients were sanctioned in the Atlanta HCD program than in its LFA program, though the messages that case managers sent about requirements were not different.

Riverside LFA and HCD program staff tended to view sanctions as one tool to get clients to attend activities and initially emphasized to clients the importance of personal responsibility. Riverside staff did not delay requests for or impositions of sanctions; the process, however, took longer than it did in most other programs because of extensive state-mandated due process procedures. The Portland program staff also emphasized ways to solve problems related to nonparticipation rather than reductions in clients' grants. Staff in Riverside and, to a greater extent, in Portland were more willing to defer individuals from participation requirements than staff in either Columbus or Grand Rapids. Staff in Portland did, however, ultimately sanction noncompliant individuals.

The mandatory participation requirements in the Detroit and Oklahoma City programs were communicated less intensively to clients. As already mentioned, staff in these two sites focused on those who wanted to participate. Resource constraints kept staff from following up on nonparticipation, and staff tended to delay imposing sanctions.