Implementation of the Welfare-to-Work Grants Program. C. Lessons for Implementing Programs for the Hard-to-employ


The WtW grant program experiences also suggest a number of important lessons that could benefit other programs serving welfare and low-income parents with serious employment problems, and that can provide insight to federal officials developing program policies.

Detailed eligibility and fiscal provisions can delay program implementation. Very specific eligibility criteria were included in the WtW legislation to target those perceived to have the most serious employment barriers--school dropouts, long-term welfare recipients, substance abusers, and the disabled. The intent was to ensure that funds were used for those with the greatest need for services. One effect, though, was that programs had to develop complicated, time-consuming, and often administratively costly procedures to document each of the criteria and verify eligibility. For example, all the study programs formally tested reading and math levels of any individual being considered for WtW--not because knowing the competency levels would help assess the individual's needs or career goals, but because the program had to document reading and math levels to verify eligibility for services.

While funding for the program was aimed at a generally disadvantaged population--welfare recipients that had been receiving public assistance over an extended period--Congress added further stipulations to target funding on those "hardest-to-serve" individuals within the welfare population. This was accomplished by introducing a "70 percent" targeting criterion, wherein at least 70 percent of the funds had to be expended on certain specific population groups, further complicating recruitment efforts and the eligibility determination process. The requirement also left programs uncertain about whether in the end they would be able to balance expenditures on "70 percent" and "30 percent" eligible individuals. In some places, individuals eligible only under the 30 percent criteria were turned away from the program, even though overall enrollment levels were low.

Similarly, the WtW program targets the hardest-to-employ, long-term welfare recipients, especially those perceived to have multiple barriers to employment--not the least of which are often serious education and job-specific skill deficits. Yet, the legislation (at least initially) prohibited programs from providing education and training as a pre-employment service that might prepare these individuals to find and keep jobs. The prohibition probably reflected a desire to avoid simply keeping individuals in long-term education or training programs that rarely result in employment. The effect was that program administrators and planners devoted considerable time and effort to identifying ways to remain in technical compliance with the training restrictions, but still provide individuals with skills training. While administrators and staff expressed frustration at not being able to provide pre-employment education and training, they nonetheless developed a number of strategies to integrate education or training into employment services, such as Philadelphia-TWC's wrap-around education, occupation-based skills training in the pre-employment internships in Boston, and the computer-based instruction programs in Phoenix.

Temporary funding and authority imposes added challenges in implementing a program. Congress enacted the WtW grants as a one-time program to help cushion any added program resource burden of welfare reform related to serving long-term TANF recipients and those with serious barriers to employment. Presumably, over time the entire safety net system would adjust to the new welfare reform law and the added resources would no longer be necessary. The temporary authorization, however, compounded some implementation problems. For example, some programs in the study sites found it difficult to establish ongoing referral arrangements with TANF and other agencies, which often have their own network of permanent programs to which they refer individuals, regardless of how attractive a new program might seem. If WtW had been a permanent new program, both the grantee and the TANF agency might have eventually been able to establish more acceptable referral procedures. As a temporary program, grantee staff in most sites felt an urgency to proceed on their own to recruit participants quickly. On the TANF side, given their workload, it is not surprising that staff often tend to refer clients to permanent programs with which they already have established ongoing contact, rather than the new WtW program. In addition, each WtW program had its own goals for enrollment into work activity and for job placements, and staff felt some degree of urgency to meet those goals within the three-year time frame set by Congress. Meeting the "numbers" sometimes diverted attention from developing and refining program services.

Federal policy changes made to improve implementation of a nonpermanent program may have limited effect. Based in part on feedback from grantees, Congress loosened the WtW eligibility provisions in 1999, but for many programs this change came so late that they were reluctant to change their intake procedures, agreements with TANF agencies, forms, and reporting systems. Instead they operationally remained with the original criteria.

Programs benefit from partnerships and collaborations at the local level that make special services, expertise, and resources available to the target population, but there are some important challenges that must be addressed. Partnerships and collaborations were considered essential in WtW because programs required information about TANF status to verify participants' eligibility for WtW services and because of the range of services the target population might need. All of the grantees studied represent collaborative efforts, in the sense that a number of partners are involved, including workforce development agencies, local TANF agencies, and a wide range of community-based organizations. Some of these collaborations work more efficiently and productively than others. Although it is often time-consuming, complicated, and difficult to bring together a number of partners at the state and local levels, a number of the WtW programs have been able to do so. In Nashville and Boston, WtW grants fund collaboratives or consortia of nonprofit organizations, public agencies, and employer firms to develop programs. In Chicago and Fort Worth, special contractors are funded to provide particular professional services such as child care referral, public relations, psychological and behavioral services, financial services, and IDAs. In Yakima, the workforce board collaborates with Youthbuild and OIC to blend their respective resources to target young parents, including fathers. In each case, the collaborative program has been able to expand services or provide more enriched services than each partner would be able to provide alone.

Carefully designed programs can reach populations with serious employment problems through systematic outreach and recruitment and a comprehensive package of services. Despite the implementation difficulties, one lesson from the WtW grants program experience is that programs can recruit and serve individuals with serious employment problems. While programs struggled to recruit those who met the very strict eligibility criteria, the fact is that nearly everyone eventually served by these programs is what might be called "hard-to-employ." A few characteristics of the programs in the study sites suggest how this population can be served. The programs are fairly small in scale and nonprofit organizations played major roles. None of these WtW-funded programs were designed to serve the entire TANF caseload--on average, study programs served about 1,000 persons over a three- to four-year period. Most programs are operated by nonprofit community organizations, many of which have extensive experience with particular populations or in particular neighborhoods. The program operators include a range of organizations from large well-established agencies such as Goodwill, Catholic Charities, and Jewish Vocational Services to small agencies with experience serving special groups such as Native Americans, women, and persons with mental illness, substance abuse, or housing deficiencies. When it became clear that the number of referrals from TANF agencies would be lower than expected, many of the nonprofit organizations moved quickly to do grass-roots recruiting.

Even in sites that were able to reach their original enrollment goals, staff noted both the difficulties of recruiting WtW participants and the importance of mounting well-organized and sustained recruitment efforts for such projects. Programs providing employment and training services for welfare recipients and NCPs should not underestimate the problems associated with recruiting participants. Programs must work hard to establish and maintain a steady flow of referrals from other programs--and if such referrals do not materialize, have a backup plan, such as conducting outreach directly to the eligible population. The WtW grantees might not have been able to anticipate that enrollment and recruitment would be a problem. However, future community-based efforts targeting subgroups of the TANF caseload or low-income NCPs will do well to systematically consider outreach and recruitment strategies before startup to minimize program disruption or delay later.

Finally, programs aimed at improving the transition to work and self-sufficiency need to have a comprehensive package of services available--either in-house or through a network of professional providers--to address the varied needs of participants. Many welfare recipients face critical barriers to securing and/or maintaining employment (e.g., basic skills deficiencies, lack of job-specific skills, problems with self-esteem and other mental health issues, substance abuse problems, family-related issues, and lack of transportation and child care). These barriers need to be addressed if individuals are to retain long-term employment. There may be no single program model to accomplish this objective, but the experiences in these sites suggest a few possible models to consider. Programs that emphasize moving individuals quickly into employment can be supplemented, or enhanced, with ongoing case management and individualized support. Another approach adopted by several of the WtW-funded programs involves more developmental activities--such as paid work experience, subsidized employment, and workplace-based internships--combined with ongoing personalized support and services. The key may be to incorporate the individualized support both pre- and post-employment.

The reports from the evaluation provide a comprehensive assessment of the types of programs developed with WtW grants funds and the outcomes for individual participants. This report describes WtW-funded programs as they operate in the 11 study sites, assesses program implementation and summarizes program services and models. Future reports from the evaluation will address the outcomes for individual participants and the costs of the approaches implemented in the sites.

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