Moving People from Welfare to Work. Lessons from the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies.. Sites and Programs


The 11 programs in NEWWS were operated in seven sites across the country: Atlanta, Georgia; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Riverside, California; Columbus, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Portland, Oregon (for a list of the programs categorized by type, see Table 2). Because FSA gave states wide latitude to design their welfare-to-work programs and one of the aims of NEWWS was to learn about different program approaches, NEWWS planners at HHS and MDRC sought to include sites that would demonstrate a variety of programs operated in a diverse range of conditions. Although the programs were not selected to be representative of all welfare-to-work programs in the country, they varied along several important dimensions, including geographic location, labor market conditions, and welfare grant levels. To meet the demands of the research, each site had to have a relatively large welfare caseload; as a result, all seven sites include urban areas. The Appendix provides summaries of each of the 11 programs' activities, environments, and results.

Table 2
NEWWS Programs, Categorized by Approach, First Activity, and Enforcement Level
Employment-focused approach Education-focused approach
Job search first Varied first activity Education or training first
High enforcement High enforcement High enforcement Low enforcement

NOTES: "LFA" denotes the site's Labor Force Attachment program.
"HCD" denotes the site's Human Capital Development program.

Atlanta LFA

Grand Rapids LFA

Riverside LFA

Portland Atlanta HCD

Grand Rapids HCD

Riverside HCD

Columbus Integrated

Columbus Traditional


Oklahoma City

Employment- and education-focused programs operated side by side in three sites. As part of an unusual effort to determine whether the employment- or the education-focused program approach works better, each of three sites -- Atlanta, Grand Rapids, and Riverside -- operated two different welfare-to-work programs. The Labor Force Attachment (LFA) program in each site emphasized immediately assigning people to short-term job search activities with the aim of getting them into the labor market quickly. Case managers in the LFA programs stressed the value of people's taking any job, even a low-paying one, and later advancing into stabler, better-paying jobs. The Human Capital Development (HCD) program in each site emphasized first enrolling people in education or training -- primarily basic or remedial education or GED preparation (not college) -- before steering them toward the labor market. The LFA and HCD programs were designed, expressly for the purposes of this research, to magnify the differences between the employment-focused approach and the education-focused approach.

A "hybrid" program in one site. Portland operated an employment-focused program that differed from the LFA programs in using a mixed strategy for making initial acti-vity assignments. Depending on caseworkers' perception of recipients' skills and needs, different recipients were assigned to different types of initial activities. Unlike the LFA programs, the Portland program offered education or training classes to a substantial minority of its enrollees and encouraged everyone to hold out for a job that paid more than the minimum wage and offered a good chance of stable employment.

Education-focused programs in three sites, one with two types of case management. Columbus, Detroit, and Oklahoma City operated education-focused programs. Columbus simultaneously operated two education-focused programs that took different approaches to case management. In the program with traditional case management, welfare recipients interacted with two separate caseworkers: one who dealt with welfare eligibility and payment issues (often called income maintenance) and one who dealt with employment and training issues. In the program with integrated case management, in contrast, recipients worked with only one staff member, who handled both the income maintenance and employment and training aspects of the case.

Other differences among programs. Nine of the 11 programs in NEWWS were considered high enforcement in that, rather than working with recipients most motivated to participate, they worked with a broad cross-section of welfare applicants and recipients who were required to participate; monitored participation closely; and, especially in several of the programs, frequently imposed sanctions -- that is, reduced welfare grant amounts -- as a penalty for not fulfilling participation requirements. The other two programs were considered low enforcement.

It is important to note that the NEWWS programs differed in important ways from many current welfare-to-work programs. First, although several NEWWS programs required some women with children as young as age 1 to participate, none extended the participation mandate to mothers with children younger than 1, which is allowed (at states' option) under TANF. Second, none of the NEWWS programs imposed a time limit on welfare receipt. Third, none included a substantial earned income disregard, a policy that allows welfare recipients to remain eligible to receive benefits and to have earnings up to a higher level than normally allowed. Finally, none of the programs emphasized upfront practices aimed at diverting people from applying for welfare, which some programs now do. NEWWS thus reveals little about these newer policies and practices. Nevertheless, the primary goal of the NEWWS programs, like that of post-PRWORA programs, was to move welfare recipients off cash assistance and into paid employment. As a result, the NEWWS programs faced the same tensions between goals that have long shaped and challenged policies for the poor: improving families' material conditions without discouraging them from working; enforcing work and work-related requirements for parents without adversely affecting their children; and minimizing government costs when it is often cheaper in the short run simply to give low-skilled parents their welfare grants than to make more expensive investments in their education or training.