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


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.