Screening and Assessment in TANF\Welfare-to-Work: Local Answers to Difficult Questions. Work Participation Rates

12/01/2001

Although all of the study sites are focused on moving clients from welfare to work as quickly as possible, they all give staff the flexibility to determine the appropriate service strategies based primarily upon indi- vidual needs.

Another TANF policy requirement which has had an impact on how states decide to serve clients with barriers is the TANF work participation rate. Activities that “count” in the rate calculation are defined by federal law and include, but are not limited to, job search and job readiness activities, subsidized and unsubsidized employment, vocational education and training, and on-the-job training.8 Services to address unobserved barriers to employment, such as substance abuse treatment or mental health counseling, do not count toward the federal participation rate. Although federal law defines the activities that count toward the participation rate, states are not required to achieve 100 percent participation following this definition. Therefore, states have some flexibility to determine the activities in which clients are “allowed” to participate. States do not necessarily have to restrict participation to the federally defined activities, as long as they meet the required work participation rate, currently set at 50 percent for all families for fiscal year 2002.

Although all of the study sites are focused on moving clients from welfare to work as quickly as possible, they all give staff the flexibility to determine the appropriate service strategies based primarily upon individual needs. For example, in all of the study sites, clients with barriers to employment were typically not required to immediately participate in activities that count toward the federal participation rate. Clients with barriers were commonly allowed to participate in non-countable activities such as drug/alcohol treatment, domestic violence services, or mental health programs. Although aware of the work participation rate requirements and which activities counted toward achieving the rates, TANF staff consistently reported that choices regarding services for clients were primarily guided by the individual’s needs, not the work participation rates. Partner agency staff varied in their understanding of TANF work requirements and did not report facing pressure to modify their approaches or alter recommended services in response to TANF requirements.


8  See Question Three in Ten Important Questions for a discussion of opportunities and limitations presented by TANF requirements. See the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 and final TANF regulations for a complete detailing of TANF work participation rate requirements.

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