Iowa's Limited Benefit Plan. A. Meeting PROMISE JOBS Requirements


As part of welfare reform in Iowa, FIP clients who are mandatory participants in PROMISE JOBS are required to develop, sign, and carry out an FIA.(1)

Clients are also required to contact PROMISE JOBS to arrange an appointment to initiate this process. Those who fail to arrange or keep the PROMISE JOBS appointment, to develop and sign an FIA, or to carry out the FIA are assigned to the LBP. Here, we describe the extent to which LBP Survey respondents met these requirements and their understanding of the consequences of failure to meet them.

1. Appointment with PROMISE JOBS

More than half of the respondents (57 percent) reported that they had arranged and kept the required appointment with PROMISE JOBS (Table VI.1). The rest did not meet this requirement. About 26 percent said that they had arranged the appointment but did not keep it, and 17 percent said they did not even arrange the appointment.(2)

Table VI.1

Of those who did not arrange the PROMISE JOBS appointment, most respondents cited lack of understanding of program requirements as the reason (70 percent). Some individuals who were employed or looking for a job did not understand that they still had to participate in PROMISE JOBS. One respondent said, "I was working full-time. I thought that was enough." Other reasons cited by at least 10 percent of those who had not arranged the appointment were transportation problems (17 percent), child care problems (13 percent), and health problems (13 percent).

Of those who arranged the PROMISE JOBS appointment but did not keep it, the most common reason for not keeping the appointment was transportation problems (31 percent). Other reasons included personal or health problems (28 percent), problems with child care (22 percent), and work or school schedules (14 percent). One respondent, whose fiancé died soon after she had scheduled an appointment with PROMISE JOBS, commented, "I was in a severe depression. I couldn't even leave my house."

2. Signing the Family Investment Agreement (FIA)

Approximately 56 percent of LBP Survey respondents reported that they fulfilled the requirement of signing an FIA (Table VI.2); 19 percent reported that they had not signed one, and 25 percent were uncertain.(3) Of the respondents who said they had not signed an FIA, 50 percent said that the reason for this was that they had never been given an FIA to sign. Another common reason respondents gave for not signing an FIA was that they did not know anything about the FIA (39 percent). Twenty-three percent reporting that they did not sign an FIA because they were employed, which suggests that they misunderstood the FIA requirement.

Table VI.2

Respondents who either did not sign an FIA or did not know whether they had signed an FIA were asked about their understanding of the consequences of not signing an FIA. When asked simply whether they understood what would happen if they did not sign an FIA, 38 percent said that they did understand. When asked to describe what they understood those consequences to be, 37 percent said that FIP benefits would end. However, some (8 percent) said they thought FIP benefits would continue. One respondent said, "I thought I could meet with my worker [even after I didn't sign my FIA]. I thought I'd keep getting my checks." Others reported that their caseworkers did not tell them about the consequences of not signing an FIA (23 percent), or that they had no understanding about the consequences at all (47 percent).

3. Goals and Activities of the FIA

The FIA is developed through a process in which the welfare client and the PROMISE JOBS caseworker meet to specify the goals and activities to be included in the plan. Most survey respondents who signed an FIA indicated some degree of ownership of the activities included in their FIA (Table VI.3). Nearly half of those who signed an FIA reported that they had selected the activities themselves, and 16 percent said they had mutually selected them with their caseworker.

Employment was the most common FIA goal. Almost 70 percent of respondents who had signed an FIA reported this as a goal. Education and economic self-sufficiency were also quite common goals: 46 percent of those who had signed an FIA had completing an educational degree as a goal, and 38 percent had achieving self-sufficiency as a goal. A considerably smaller share identified specific short-term goals, such as finding a child care provider, paying off debts, volunteering, or acquiring legal assistance.

Table VI.3

The FIA must also include specific activities for achieving the larger goals of the plan. Job Club or other job search activities were included as activities by 39 percent of the respondents who had signed an FIA. Educational activities were also common. Thirty-six percent of respondents with an FIA included enrollment in postsecondary education in their FIA, and 30 percent included completing high school or a GED. Other FIA activities included volunteering, finding a child care provider, and acquiring an automobile.

4. Satisfaction with the FIA and Understanding of Terms

Most respondents who reported signing an FIA were satisfied with its content (results not shown) and understood the consequences of failure to follow through with the FIA (Table VI.3). The most common reason given for not being satisfied with the FIA was limited ownership. One parent said, "My worker told me to write that I was going to get a job, but I wanted to go to school." Some dissatisfaction also stemmed from a lack of understanding. One respondent explained, "I didn't know what I was signing. They gave me a paper and [I was] told to sign it." However, overall there was a high degree of understanding of the FIA reported by survey respondents. Approximately 91 percent of respondents who had signed an FIA said they knew what would happen if they did not follow through on the goals and activities specified in their FIA.

5. Barriers to Achieving Goals of the FIA

Many of the LBP Survey respondents who had signed an FIA reported barriers to achieving the goals of their FIA.(4) In total, 73 percent of survey respondents who had signed an FIA reported one or more barriers that prevented them from fulfilling it (Table VI.4). The three most frequently reported barriers were (1) a serious personal or health issue (30 percent), (2) lack of transportation (28 percent), and (3) lack of child care (20 percent). One respondent explained, "I keep looking for work, but I can't find anything that pays enough so I can afford a babysitter."

Of the survey respondents who reported that barriers had interfered with their fulfillment of their FIA, approximately one-third had not discussed these barriers with their caseworker. Some of these respondents said they did not talk to their caseworker because they thought the caseworker would consider the issue unimportant, because they were embarrassed, or because they considered the problem to be a private issue (results not shown). Of those who did inform their caseworkers about the barriers, just over two-thirds reported that their caseworker had not helped them resolve the barriers (Table VI.4). Of those who did receive help from their caseworker, the assistance usually took the form of advice or information.

6. Modification of the FIA

Modification of the FIA was rare. Only 11 percent of the respondents who had signed an FIA said that they had subsequently attempted to modify it (Table VI.4). Half of them wanted to change the goals or activities in their FIA; the other half wanted to extend the time line for fulfilling their FIA. The motivation for seeking to modify the FIA was typically a change in the respondent's health status or the inability of the respondent to fulfill the requirements of the original FIA (results not shown). For example, one respondent said, "I couldn't stay in school full-time. There were problems at home, and I wanted to go to school part-time." Three of the eight respondents who had attempted to modify their FIA reported that they were successful.