Implementation of the Welfare-to-Work Grants Program. B. Program Approaches and Services


The federal grants mechanism resulted in a highly decentralized system of locally developed employment programs for hard-to-serve welfare recipients and other low-income parents with employment difficulties. Many of the programs target specific hard-to-employ populations--including noncustodial parents, substance abusers, and persons with physical and mental disabilities. Targeting these groups is often accomplished by contracting with nonprofit community-based organizations that have special experience. For example, in Chicago, the grantee agency has over 20 service provider contractors, all but two of which are nonprofit organizations. In Nashville and Boston, each grantee agency contracts with about a dozen community-based organizations.

Despite the early implementation problems and the slow pace of enrollment, a number of potentially promising programmatic developments have emerged from the WtW grants program, although this report cannot address how well the programs do in improving individual outcomes. Among the potentially important strategies are the extensive involvement of nonprofit organizations, collaborations with employers, provision of a range of activities that bridge the transition from welfare-to-work, and post-employment retention services. For example, several study programs--notably in Boston and Chicago--feature close collaboration with businesses or industries, providing short-term occupation-specific skills training, accompanying work experience, and an employer commitment to hire participants into full-time unsubsidized jobs when they complete the program. Contractors work closely with hotel, health care, and retail firms to ensure that the curriculum, teaching methods, and special equipment used for training are up-to-date and relevant to what is needed within a particular occupational field.

Nearly all the study programs offer various types of transitional and subsidized work opportunities to help bridge the transition from welfare to unsubsidized, full-time work. These subsidized activities include on-the-job training (e.g., in which the WtW agency pays a portion (usually half) of the individual's wages for up to six months); sheltered workshops (e.g., in which the WtW-funded agency engages participants in part-time work at an hourly wage or "piecemeal" rate); work internships (usually paid and often resulting in a regular permanent job); community work experience (e.g., in which the WtW participant is detailed to work part-time at a public or nonprofit agency to meet TANF work requirements); and paid community service, where individuals receive at least the minimum wage. These programs help TANF recipients to meet work requirements imposed under TANF and provide work experience (including orientation to the world of work) that in many cases helps to build resumes and bridge the gap to employment for welfare recipients with multiple and severe barriers to employment.

A number of the study programs include post-employment job retention services to head off problems before they end in job loss and, where possible, to advance workers to higher skill and higher paying (and more secure) jobs within their companies. Ongoing case management and tracking are intended to help individuals keep jobs. Participant services include ongoing help with support services, such as with bus passes, reimbursement for gas, help with car repairs, resolving child care problems, referral to transitional housing, and help with purchase of work clothes and equipment. Some programs sponsor periodic job retention workshops or job clubs, and refer participants to education and training programs and a range of other local agencies (e.g., substance abuse and mental health providers, transitional/permanent housing providers, etc.). A few programs also intervene with employers to help resolve work-related problems such as absenteeism, conflicts with co-workers, and low productivity.

In general, while all programs in the study sites provide some type of post-employment retention services, few offer skills development or employment advancement services. Staff and administrators explain that their primary challenge is to help people get jobs and retain them. Job advancement is a long-term issue for which many of these participants are not yet ready, given the range of problems they often have.

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