Impacts of a Mandatory Welfare-to-Work Program on Children at School Entry and Beyond: Findings from the NEWWS Child Outcomes Study. The Family Support Act and the JOBS Program

07/01/2004

The Family Support Act of 1988 created the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training (JOBS) Program, which required states to develop and operate mandatory welfare-to-work programs for welfare recipients. The explicitly-stated goal of JOBS was to reduce long-term welfare dependency. Research at the time had shown that welfare-to-work programs adopting a "job-search-first" strategy generally did not benefit the most disadvantaged welfare recipients. Consequently, the law placed an emphasis on education and training, in the hopes that investing up-front in clients' skills might have a longer-term payoff in terms of employment in better-paying jobs. This was especially anticipated for those without a high school degree, who are at greatest risk for long-term welfare receipt.

The JOBS Program had four main components:

  • Services to enhance the employability of welfare recipients, such as adult basic education (including high school or GED preparation classes, remedial education, and English as a Second Language classes), vocational training, and job search;
  • Mandated participation in these work preparation activities (and financial sanctions for non-compliance with this mandate);
  • Messages about the importance of such activities for self-sufficiency; and
  • Case management, to direct and monitor clients' progress through these activities.

The Family Support Act marked the first time in national policy that welfare recipients with children ages 3 to 5 (or as young as one, at state option) were required to enroll in welfare-to-work programs. It also required that at least 55 percent of funds be reserved for services for welfare recipients deemed to be at the greatest risk of long-term welfare dependency. Enrollees were required to participate in employment-preparation activities for as long as they were on welfare and remained eligible for services. Case managers were expected to monitor participation and use a variety of informal and formal responses when enrollees did not comply. Finally, welfare recipients were supposed to be assigned additional activities if they completed participation in employment-preparation activities without finding a job.