Understanding the WtW grants program requires background on how the policy decisions that created it dovetailed with the substantial policy changes incorporated in the TANF program. Welfare reform, as manifested in PRWORA, changed the nations social assistance system in three important ways, by providing:
- An Increased Focus on Work. The federal TANF legislation enacted in 1996 solidified a trend begun by many states under earlier federal waivers to link receipt of assistance with movement towards employment. Congress required that states meet steadily increasing requirements for the percentage of their TANF cases engaged in unsubsidized employment or work-related activities; the requirements reached 45 percent in fiscal year 2001 and 50 percent in 2002. To meet these goals, most state TANF policies emphasize job search activities rather than education or training, and encourage or require recipients to find employment rapidly.
- Assistance as a Temporary Support. Federal law specifies that federally funded welfare payments are intended to be a short-term step toward securing employment and self-sufficiency. The predecessor federal welfare program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), provided assistance indefinitely as an entitlement to families who met eligibility requirements. The TANF program provides short-term assistance only; individuals can receive federally funded cash assistance for a lifetime maximum of 60 months, and states can institute even shorter time limits. (States may use state funds to pay for some cash benefits, enabling them to extend the five-year time limit; some have opted to do so.)
- Substantial Discretion for States in Program Design. States are allowed considerably more flexibilityin implementing TANF than they had under AFDC. As a result, policies and programs vary considerably across states. States determine how to use their TANF block grant to fund cash assistance, work-related services, and other supports for low-income families with children. They also decide what work requirements are imposed on recipients and which individuals are subject to these requirements (within federal parameters).
These changes in welfare contributed to a dramatic decline in caseloads. The welfare rolls, which had already begun to shrink in the mid-1990s, continued to decline after the passage of PRWORA. The number of cases receiving cash assistance under AFDC and later TANF decreased from 5.05 million in January 1994 to 2.01 million in July 2002.(3) Prior research suggests the caseload reduction was due to a combination of a strong national economy and the welfare reform policies emphasizing employment (see, for example, Wallace and Blank 1999).
The legislation establishing the WtW program the BBA of 1997 placed it in the framework of the workforce development system, but with important ties to the TANF program. TANF recipients were the primary target group for WtW-funded services and were subject to state and federal welfare policies, which meant that WtW programs and enrollees had to follow those policies. The BBA gave the Department of Labor (DOL) administrative authority for the WtW program at the federal level and gave local workforce investment boards (WIBs) primary responsibility for local program operations. The job of moving WtW-eligible persons into employment was shared by the human services agencies responsible for TANF and its work programs, and the workforce development system that oversaw WtW-funded programs.
Although the BBA required this collaboration between human service agencies and the workforce development system, effective partnerships were often slow to develop. Most local WtW programs participating in this evaluations implementation study reported that they expected TANF agencies to refer substantial numbers of WtW-eligible welfare clients to them (Nightingale et al. 2002; summarized in Appendix G of this report). Yet the actual number of referrals was often low due in part to falling caseloads and institutional barriers to effective partnerships and this contributed to the difficulties many WtW-funded programs experienced in achieving their enrollment targets. But in sites where effective collaborations did develop, they resulted in improved access for welfare recipients to workforce development systems that, as a consequence of WtW, had more providers and offered more diverse services.
The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) changed the institutional foundation on which the WtW grants program rested.(4) WIA consolidated existing training and workforce development programs and gave state and local agencies the responsibility for implementation. In contrast to its forerunners the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) of 1973 and the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) of 1982 WIA emphasized employment preparation and placement services in addition to job training services, rather than solely or primarily encouraging the latter. WIA also required local WIBs to create one-stop centers to deliver a variety of services to job seekers and employers. Seventeen federal employment and training programs including the WtW grants program but not TANF were designated as mandatory partners for one-stop centers, meaning that program services had to be accessible to eligible persons through these centers. TANF was designated an optional partner. In this manner, both WIA and WtW played an important role in promoting linkages between TANF employment programs and the workforce development system.
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