Grantees were to develop employment-related programs for persons with serious barriers and who met the congressionally established eligibility criteria. Especially initially, programs had limited flexibility over deciding who could receive WtW-funded services. Most WtW grantees expected that referral from TANF offices would be the primary way participants entered their programs, and that TANF agencies would help verify eligibility. To meet these needs, grantees or programs funded by grantees established procedural agreements with the TANF agency. In many study sites there were problems with the referral process and WtW program administrators devoted considerable time and effort to developing eligibility determination, verification, and intake procedures to document the eligibility of each participant. Enrollment was slower and enrollment levels were lower than expected in all study sites, motivating grantees to undertake their own outreach and recruitment.
One of the most difficult aspects of WtW implementation related to low enrollment levels. A combination of factors contributed to enrollment problems in addition to the strict eligibility and spending requirements in the legislation.(14) For example, individuals with relatively serious personal and employment problems proved particularly difficult to enroll, given the other challenges in their lives.
In addition, the primary means by which WtW programs initially expected to obtain eligible individuals was through direct referrals from other local agencies, especially the TANF agency. All study programs, with the exception of the Milwaukee-NOW program (which targeted NCPs under probation or parole) intended to rely upon the TANF office to identify and refer WtW-eligible clients. For a variety of reasons, most of the study programs had difficulty getting enough referrals from TANF. In some states and localities, TANF policies and practices affected enrollment into WtW programs, sometimes inadvertently limiting the number of WtW participants. For instance, in some of the study sites, the WtW grantee and TANF agency had agreed that only individuals who had already participated in the TANF work program and had not been able to obtain a job would be eligible for WtW. In other sites, there was a de facto agreement that only those TANF recipients who were subject to work requirements were eligible for WtW. And in some places where TANF workers had discretion to refer clients to any of a number of employment-related programs in the community, workers were more inclined to refer to long-established programs with which they were more familiar rather than to a fairly new WtW program. Finally, in sites where the WtW grantee depended on TANF agencies to verify an individual's eligibility, confirmation sometimes took several weeks during which time some individuals lost interest. One implication of the various enrollment procedures followed is that the characteristics of the WtW-eligible individuals served vary across programs, as discussed below.
Over time, as the number of referrals was slower and lower than expected, WtW-funded programs adopted various methods to increase their participation levels. It quickly became evident that relying on referrals from TANF would not allow programs to reach their planned number of participants. Most of the study grantees, therefore, pursued active outreach and direct recruitment, which generally increased participation levels.
Recruitment approaches used included:
- Distribution of brochures/flyers at welfare and workforce development offices (e.g., one-stop career centers), other local human services agency offices, and community-based organizations;
- Making presentations at job fairs and career centers as well as at welfare offices and other agencies; and
- Public information announcements through local media.
Since most of the study programs do some direct outreach, individuals enter programs in multiple ways. A large proportion are referred by TANF agencies, but according to local staff, perhaps half of WtW participants in many programs are recruited directly by the programs. In Fort Worth, for instance, about half of participants are recruited directly by WtW program contractors, who screen individuals to determine if they are likely to be eligible, and "reverse refer" those people back to the group orientation session for TANF recipients required by the TANF agency.
Program outreach is a common component of many programs operated by CBOs and other employment and training providers, so active outreach by WtW programs, many of which are operated by CBOs, is a logical response. It is, however, a procedural and operational change from what was originally planned, since most programs assumed that their participants would be referred to them by TANF agencies.