National Evaluation of the Welfare-to-Work Grants Program: Final Report. Welfare-to-Work Grants Programs: Adjusting to Changing Circumstances

09/01/2004

This report, based on telephone calls to WtW grant administrators in 2003, documented program status, future plans, program adjustments, and lessons from WtW. Most programs were phasing down at the time of this study  two sites completed their grant periods in 2001; the others in late 2003 or early 2004. Enrollment continued until about six months before the grant ended. About one month before the end-date, remaining participants were usually transferred to other, mainly WIA-funded, programs. In half the sites, there was increased emphasis on particular groups, especially noncustodial fathers. Among the main findings were:

  • In most sites, long-term funding for programs was uncertain. Administrators were especially concerned about whether TANF or WIA funds would be available to serve participants who were hardest to employ. Some programs (in about two-thirds of the sites) expected being able to continue for a year or two using TANF or WIA funds.
  • No adjustments were made due to TANF or WIA policies or the economy. Although many participants hit time limits, WtW and TANF were able to help  for example, via more job development, or moving cases to state-funded welfare. There was some concern that one-stop career centers might not be sensitive to welfare recipients, but in only one study site did a center decrease its priority on welfare clients in 2003. Despite the slow economy in 2003, participants were still able to find jobs, but it took longer and they had fewer options (e.g., lower wages, fewer hours per week). Employer partnerships, however, were harder to maintain because firms were less able to commit to hiring individuals who successfully completed the programs.
  • Grantee administrators were generally positive about the WtW grants program and its legacy. In particular, they cited (1) the local flexibility in program design and (2) the momentum to increase collaboration among WIA, TANF agencies, and community-based organizations. The report noted several key lessons learned from the WtW programs, chiefly:
  • Complicated eligibility criteria contribute to operational difficulties. Program startup was delayed as inter-agency agreements were developed to verify eligibility and refer individuals from TANF. Congress broadened eligibility in 1999, in a move welcomed by programs, but to little effect. Programs had already been designed, service contracts were in effect, and WtW-TANF agreements continued to use the original rules.
  • Longer-term or permanent funding is important when targeting hard-to-serve groups. Program development, recruitment, and referral took longer than expected. The five-year period was considered too short.
  • More specific technical assistance on service issues is important. Grantees were glad to have discretion in programming, but reported that they would have liked more help on some issues, such as understanding TANF policies, performance goals, and data systems, and effective recruitment and outreach strategies.

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