Focus groups conducted with TANF clients in each study site offer interesting, albeit anecdotal, insight into clients’ views on disclosing barriers to employment. Clients who participated in focus groups were asked about their decisions to disclose unobserved barriers to employment and specifically their relationships with different staff members and whether or not these relationships impacted their willingness to disclose.
“When I call my eligibility worker, it takes her a week to get back to me. I could have an emergency, but do you think she cares? No. All she feels is like I’m looking for some money, Food Stamps.”
“They’re like robots. They’re not people people. Sometimes they’re flat-out rude. They make you feel small. Like ‘We’re helping you so you should deal with however I treat you.’”
“They don’t care. They’re just doing data entry.”
“She has an attitude. She looks down at you like you’re dirt. If she was asking me the questions, I’d just say no.”
Focus group respondents generally reported being less willing to disclose their unobserved barriers to employment to eligibility workers. Typically, eligibility workers were perceived to not be interested in helping clients with their needs beyond the receipt of cash, food, or medical assistance. Clients acknowledged that an eligibility worker’s primary responsibility is determining and monitoring eligibility for benefits, but noted that in carrying out these responsibilities workers often fail to create relationships that encourage or facilitate disclosure. Focus group respondents also reported frustration with frequent worker reassignments that made it difficult to interact with the same worker over time and develop a relationship. Finally, clients noted that many eligibility workers are responsible for large caseloads which inhibit workers’ abilities to develop relationships with individual clients.