This study has provided one of the first examinations of the role intermediaries are playing in helping welfare recipients find employment. Clearly, intermediaries are an important part of a complex array of actors that are attempting to help welfare recipients find and maintain stable employment. Therefore, their ability to link welfare recipients with jobs may substantially influence the overall success of a localities' efforts to reform the welfare system. Especially over the long-term, it would broaden our understanding of welfare reform if we explored the role of intermediaries in further detail.
1. The implementation of welfare reform cannot be fully understood without taking into account the role intermediaries play in linking welfare recipients with jobs.
Understanding the implementation of welfare reform is an extremely complex undertaking. Because many implementation decisions are being made at the local level, the focal point for many implementation studies is the local welfare office. This study suggests that, in some communities, the scope of inquiry may need to expand beyond the welfare office. This is especially true for the analysis of implementation issues that involve significant worker-client interaction such as assessment practices, the implementation of sanction policies and efforts to link clients with ongoing work supports such as food stamps and Medicaid. While we often think of these tasks within the purview of welfare office staff, it is clear that intermediaries have an important role to play in making sure that clients are aware of what is expected of them and the benefits to which they are entitled.
2. Currently, there is no conclusive evidence on whether intermediaries with certain characteristics perform better than others. Investing in research to examine this question could potentially help local welfare offices to develop more effective TANF employment service delivery systems.
In the current environment many intermediaries are being asked to provide the same set of services to welfare recipients. However, intermediaries differ on a number of dimensions that may influence their performance. Key characteristics that may influence performance include: (1) the number of clients served; (2) previous history of providing employment-related services; (3) expertise serving hard-to-employ populations; (4) payment mechanism; (5) payment amount; (6) type of organization; (7) links to the business community; and (8) the administrative structure in which the intermediary is operating.
3. Work first programs, consisting primarily of job search and placement assistance are at the heart of most current efforts to increase employment among welfare recipients. As these programs become more established, it would be useful to know whether one work first approach is more effective than another.
Job search assistance is the core service provided by most primary intermediaries. While these programs are similar in many ways, often there are subtle differences. Some of the dimensions on which these programs vary include: (1) length of the program; (2) amount of structure; (3) level of employer involvement; (4) extent to which life skills issues are addressed; and (5) length and extent of follow-up. Currently, there is no information available to indicate whether different approaches to providing job search have any influence on program outcomes. Additional information on what makes a "good" job search program may help to improve the overall quality of job search programs.
In many communities, intermediaries provide the primary link between welfare recipients and the paid labor market. While a service delivery system that effectively links the welfare office, the workforce development system and intermediaries is in place in some communities, in others, an integrated service delivery system is still being created. Given the changing nature of the TANF caseload and shifting priorities, the system for providing employment-related services to TANF clients is likely to be in transition for some time. Over the next several years, states and localities will be implementing the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) which may encourage some local communities to again rethink how they transfer responsibility to intermediaries. Examining how these transitions take place and how they affect the role intermediaries play in linking welfare recipients with jobs will help to broaden our knowledge of what it takes to create a stable work-based assistance system.