Iowa's Limited Benefit Plan. A. FIP, PROMISE JOBS, and the LBP


The reforms to Iowa's welfare system that are embodied in FIP emphasize the provision of employment and training services to welfare clients in order to help them become employed and move toward self-sufficiency. To facilitate this transition, DHS works closely with the Department of Employment Services (DES) and the Department of Economic Development (DED), which jointly operate the PROMISE JOBS program.(1) This program is staffed by workers from DES and from the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) agency in DED. DES workers focus on employment and JTPA workers focus on education and training.

Assignment to the LBP is primarily a consequence of not complying with FIP requirements for participation in PROMISE JOBS. In order to understand how and when FIP clients enter the LBP, it is necessary to understand how clients proceed from DHS to PROMISE JOBS, and through the employment and training services. Figure II.1 shows that the process begins when a potential client applies for FIP and goes through an intake interview at DHS. Those who are determined to be both eligible for FIP and mandatory participants in PROMISE JOBS are referred to the latter program. At PROMISE JOBS, clients attend an orientation meeting where the employment and training program is explained. They then go through an assessment which determines their aptitude, career interests, and barriers to employment. The next step is to work with a PROMISE JOBS caseworker to develop and sign an FIA, which is an individualized employment and training plan. At this point, clients begin the various employment and training activities offered by PROMISE JOBS. FIP clients who do not comply with PROMISE JOBS requirements are assigned to the LBP.

Flowchart (figure II.1)

1. Determination of FIP Eligibility and Referral to PROMISE JOBS

DHS determines the eligibility of applicants for cash assistance, which is provided through FIP, and reviews the eligibility of ongoing FIP clients. After eligibility has been determined, FIP clients whose participation in PROMISE JOBS is mandatory are notified that they must contact PROMISE JOBS to schedule an orientation. Under the old AFDC program, welfare recipients were notified regarding the date and time that they were to report for orientation, but under FIP it is the client's responsibility to schedule an orientation appointment with PROMISE JOBS. After FIP clients are notified of their mandatory status by a letter from DHS, they have ten days to call PROMISE JOBS and set up an appointment.

2. PROMISE JOBS Orientation and Assessment

Clients who go to PROMISE JOBS first attend an orientation meeting and complete an initial assessment. These may occur on the same day. Orientation is typically a group, rather than an individual, activity. Staff members from JTPA and DES, sometimes accompanied by a representative of DHS, describe the PROMISE JOBS participation requirements and the benefits of participation. Topics covered include program components (for example, job search and postsecondary education), the FIA, and the LBP. Immediately following the orientation, FIP clients complete self-assessment forms. They then meet individually with staff members to discuss their goals and barriers to employment, and to receive their assignments to specific PROMISE JOBS workers.

Clients who have no prohibitive barriers to further PROMISE JOBS participation but are unlikely to immediately secure employment generally go through further assessment at a later date. This consists of exercises such as literacy and aptitude testing, self-esteem building, interest assessment, and goal setting. This additional assessment may take place before or after the FIA is written, but it usually takes place before that activity, so that the results can be used in developing the FIA.

3. The Family Investment Agreement

All FIP clients who are mandatory participants in PROMISE JOBS are required to work with their case workers to develop and sign an FIA. The FIA specifies the client's plan for becoming self-sufficient in a specified amount of time. The FIA includes intermediate goals and the activities in which the client will participate to reach those goals as well as the ultimate goal, self-sufficiency. The FIA also includes time frames for activities and for achieving goals.

The FIA is a contract between a FIP client and the state; both parties are responsible for fulfilling its terms. While the FIP client agrees to follow the FIA, the state agrees to assist the client by providing services (such as job training) and financial assistance with child care and transportation costs.

FIP clients who are cooperating with PROMISE JOBS may modify their FIAs at any time if their life circumstances change. Allowable FIA modifications include (1) an extension of a deadline for completing of an activity or achieving of a goal, (2) a change in activities, and (3) a change in goals. The ability to modify the FIA makes it possible for clients and for PROMISE JOBS to respond to altered circumstances or the emergence of new barriers to employment. It also allows clients to try one type of activity (for example, college) and then change to another (such as employment) if the first activity does not work out as planned.

4. PROMISE JOBS Components

After signing an FIA, FIP clients begin to participate in PROMISE JOBS components, as shown in the middle of Figure II.1. These fall into three categories:

Education components include:

  • Adult Basic Education (ABE), English as a second language (ESL), high school completion, and general equivalency diploma (GED)
  • Postsecondary education, vocational training, and entrepreneurial training

Employment components include:(2)

  • Work Experience Program (WEP) and unpaid community service (UCS)
  • Job-readiness skills (called job club)
  • Job search
  • Monitored employment (unsubsidized)

Social and supportive services components include:

  • Parenting classes
  • Family development services
  • Other counseling, such as referrals for mental health or substance abuse counseling

Clients who do not have a high school degree are encouraged to enter high school completion or GED programs or to return to high school (if they are of high-school age). Those who need tutoring in basic skills before they can start one of these programs may enter ABE. Those whose native language is not English and need help with their English language skills may enter the ESL program. Teenage parents without high school degrees are required to participate in one or the other of these programs. Clients who desire and are approved for more advanced education or vocational training typically attend classes at a local community college or state or private baccalaureate institution.

WEP and UCS are designed primarily for clients who have little or no work history or who want to gain experience to enter a new career. Clients in WEP and UCS work as volunteers, generally in not-for-profit organizations or government offices. The difference between WEP and UCS is that WEP placement is arranged by PROMISE JOBS, while UCS placement is arranged by the client.

Clients' first step toward paid employment is often attending job club, where resume writing, job search techniques, interviewing skills, and basic work habits are taught. They then move to the job search component, where they receive information about current job openings and are required to apply for a specified number of jobs each week. There are three types of job search: group job search (for those who go through job club), individual job search, and self-directed job search. The latter two types of job search are less structured than the former. Clients typically progress from more to less structured job search, but those with good job search skills and a high likelihood of moving rapidly into employment may proceed directly into the less structured job search components. Clients who obtain jobs are placed in monitored employment, which is an initial period of employment during which wages and job participation are monitored by PROMISE JOBS.

Some employed FIP recipients are eligible for the Work Transition Period (WTP), which is a four-month period during which clients receive both the full FIP check and their earnings.(3) After the WTP, the FIP check is reduced in relation to earnings, but the substantial earnings disregards under the state's welfare reform allow many employed clients to continue to receive some cash benefits.

5. Assignment to the LBP

FIP clients may volunteer for assignment to the LBP or, more commonly, they may be assigned to the LBP as a consequence of not participating in PROMISE JOBS. Whether the assignment is voluntary or involuntary is of no administrative significance.(4) Administratively, what is important is the timing of assignment to the LBP relative to the signing of an FIA. There are important differences between a pre-FIA LBP and a post-FIA LBP that relate to the client's rights to reconsideration of the LBP assignment.

If a FIP client does not make an appointment with PROMISE JOBS for orientation and assessment, or if the client makes an appointment but fails to attend and does not contact the worker to reschedule the meeting, then the client is assigned to the LBP. Alternatively, if the client complies by attending orientation and assessment, but fails to develop and sign an FIA, the client is also assigned to the LBP. In either case, the LBP is referred to as a pre-FIA LBP because the LBP assignment is made before the FIA is written. This kind of LBP is less severe than a post-FIA LBP because the client has two opportunities to reconsider cooperating with PROMISE JOBS, thus resulting in an immediate resumption of full FIP benefits. (5) Reconsideration may occur during the first 45 days of the LBP and during the fifth and sixth months of the LBP.

If a FIP client signs an FIA but never shows up for the required activities--that is, job club, volunteer work experience, postsecondary education, and so forth--or if the client otherwise fails to follow through with the FIA plans, he or she is also assigned to the LBP. This is referred to as a post-FIA LBP. Clients who "abandon" their FIAs in these ways have no reconsideration opportunities.

The LBP assignment process is less involved for pre-FIA LBPs than for post-FIA LBPs. The pre-FIA LBP is administratively quite simple and can be implemented directly by PROMISE JOBS staff, who have

access to the necessary computer screens.(6) A pre-FIA LBP assignment is implemented by PROMISE JOBS only after the caseworker has sent a client two notices warning of the pending assignment to the LBP. A post-FIA LBP is more difficult to implement. The PROMISE JOBS caseworker again must send a client two notices warning of the pending LBP assignment. However, for these LBPs, the caseworker's supervisor must also send a notice. If no reply to these notices is received, PROMISE JOBS sends the LBP assignment request to the DHS central office in Des Moines, where it is reviewed by a specially designated staff member for post-FIA LBP assignments. This review protects clients and their families by ensuring consistent application of post-FIA LBP policies.