This guide is organized into parts that offer advice on different levels of work first program management: planning, administration, activities, and case management. There is also a part that discusses policies related to work first, such as financial incentives and time limits. The parts are divided into numbered sections, each of which discusses a specific aspect of operating a work first program. The parts and sections are designed to be read independently, so that you can simply turn to those which are of interest to you. Many of the elements interact, however, and the text provides numerous cross-references to related sections.
Throughout the guide, you will find bulleted material and checklists. The bullets are intended to highlight topic areas and thus make the guide easier to use. The checklists denote specific suggestions for readers.
The guide cites numerous examples from state and county programs across the country that have implemented various aspects of work first or have addressed implementation issues in creative ways. Appendix B provides contact information for these programs as well as for other organizations that can provide information and assistance to readers.
There is no exact recipe for implementing work first. The three work first programs in the JOBS Evaluation-in Atlanta, Grand Rapids, and Riverside-all have strong results but look quite different. In any case, a guide presenting a single model would be of little use, because no single model would work everywhere. Presented in this guide are key ingredients and some ideas on how to mix them together. Given your own situation, you may want to add more or less of some ingredients, or alter the recipe in other ways.
As you read this guide, bear the following points in mind:
- The role of helping individuals move from welfare to work is usually performed by state, county, or city welfare agencies. However, many aspects of a program, or even whole programs, may be contracted out or provided through informal arrangements with workforce development agencies, Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) providers, community-based organizations, or other groups. In addition, other organizations may provide similar services on their own. This guide can be used by all these groups.
- It is important for program planners and staff to recognize the flexibility in a work first approach. If some elements do not work in your particular situation, or if you do not have control over some areas, that does not mean you cannot implement work first. Similarly, even if you would not define your own program as work first, the suggestions in this guide can help you make whatever model you choose more employment-focused.
- This guide does not describe how to build a welfare-to-work program from the ground up. You probably already have programs and policies in place, but you want to expand these programs and shift their focus to quick employment. Therefore, this guide skips over many elements of good management and planning in order to concentrate on the question at hand: How can you move your program from its current orientation to a work first approach?
- This guide is being published at a time when welfare policy is in a state of flux. With the passage of federal welfare legislation, states and localities have new flexibility in designing responses to poverty, and many are rethinking their existing policies and programs. This guide presents ideas that can be implemented within a variety of frameworks. Readers should be aware, however, of any local regulations, requirements, or other restrictions-from state policy mandates to agency hiring rules-that might affect how you make use of this guide.
The discussion that follows is only a beginning. Each of the sections could easily be expanded into a lengthy paper of its own, and would still not address all the ideas, options, and trade-offs. But the guidelines presented here will point you in the right direction. Use them to make sure that you have considered all important aspects of program design; to identify your options; and to make educated choices among those options. This guide provides concrete advice for states and localities as they strive to help families make the move from welfare to work.