In the local sites, some intermediaries are new to serving welfare recipients or providing employment services. Thus, they face all of the implementation challenges that any new organization faces hiring and training staff and defining how they will provide the services they have agreed to provide. Established organizations have had to adjust their services to respond to the more work-oriented focus of the welfare system; for many, the primary adjustment they have had to make is decreasing the amount of time they have to prepare TANF recipients for employment. Regardless of whether organizations are new or established, many have faced similar implementation challenges, especially those related to receiving referrals and establishing effective communication systems.
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1. Intermediaries are operating in a new and changing environment where the flow of clients is rarely steady and predictable. Declining TANF caseloads, dual structures for providing employment services for TANF recipients and high no-show rates among TANF recipients all contribute to the uncertainties that intermediaries face in predicting the number of clients they will serve.
When intermediaries enter into a formal agreement with the welfare office or their designee, they do so with the expectation that they will serve a specified number of clients. However, in a rapidly changing environment, it has been difficult to accurately predict how many TANF recipients will need to be served by intermediaries. In some of the urban sites, intermediaries are serving more clients than they anticipated serving. In the sites with the largest caseload declines, intermediaries are serving far fewer TANF clients than they anticipated serving. As a result, many intermediaries' contracts have been modified and discussions are beginning about how the money available for TANF employment services can be used differently. In one of the rural sites, the primary intermediary receives so few referrals for its job search services that the program is no longer self-supporting and is maintained only as a community service.
Intermediaries operating outside of the primary TANF employment program face special difficulties reaching the number of TANF clients they plan to serve. Because most TANF clients are expected to find employment as quickly as possible, it is often difficult for them to participate in programs that are outside of the primary TANF employment structure. Consequently, WtW programs in localities where the TANF employment and WtW programs are managed by separate entities have had an especially difficult time recruiting clients to participate in their programs. Restrictive eligibility criteria contribute to some of the problems faced by WtW intermediaries, however, in communities where the WtW program is not fully integrated into the TANF employment program, enrollment problems are likely to remain even when the pool of eligible participants is broadened.
Even when intermediaries receive sufficient referrals, they have had to account for extremely high levels of non-participation. Intermediaries report that they generally can expect only about half of the clients referred to them to participate in the program. High no-show rates reduce the number of clients an intermediary can serve and create a huge paperwork burden since clients who do not show up for services are usually referred back to the welfare office for sanctioning. In an effort to reduce the number of clients who do not participate in their programs, a few intermediaries have put outreach activities into place. Outreach activities include calling the client the day before they are scheduled to begin participation and sending follow-up reminder cards. Other outreach activities are more intensive and may include conducting home visits to clients.
2. As caseloads decline, there is a growing concern among intermediaries that there is a mismatch between the limited services they are being asked to provide and the needs of the clients they are being asked to serve.
As TANF caseloads decline, many intermediaries feel they are working with more clients with multiple barriers to employment. Most intermediaries believe they could do a better job of serving these families if they had more time to work with clients and could provide a broader range of services. Over time, it is possible there will be less demand for the short-term job search and placement programs currently in place and more demand for longer-term supported work programs. Given the more specialized knowledge needed to address the needs of families with chronic barriers to employment, it is possible that a new set of intermediaries will be called upon to provide these services. Alternatively, existing intermediaries might begin to collaborate more with organizations that are better equipped to provide these services.
3. Intermediaries often are asked to collect and manage large amounts of information on individual clients with limited automated support.
It has been a challenge for most of the sites to establish clear procedures for transferring client information back and forth between multiple agencies. The more agencies involved in the referral and service delivery process, the more difficult it is to establish efficient methods of communication. Most state or local automated data collection systems were not designed to support the complex interactions between the welfare office, the workforce development system and intermediaries. Consequently, many localities have had to rely on manual tracking systems. It is an ongoing challenge to develop and maintain a system of communication that provides all involved parties with the information they need and is not overly burdensome on front line staff.