Screening and Assessment in TANF\Welfare-to-Work: Ten Important Questions TANF Agencies and Their Partners Should Consider. Executive Summary


Changes to the welfare system brought about by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), and state and local welfare reform efforts, carry serious implications for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) recipients with disabilities and barriers to employment. Specifically, work participation and time limit requirements are two key provisions of the federal welfare law which provide a new sense of urgency encouraging states to develop strategies to assist clients with their transitions from welfare to work. As a first step in this process, TANF agencies are considering strategies to identify the barriers that are inhibiting or prohibiting this transition. PRWORA offers unprecedented flexibility to develop such strategies and design programs and services to assist with the transition from welfare to work.

As caseloads have declined, there is general agreement among TANF agencies that larger proportions of remaining clients are “hard-to-serve.” Often this means clients are believed to have substance abuse or mental health problems or learning disabilities, or to be in domestic violence situations— referred to collectively in this paper as “unobserved” barriers to employment. Given the employment focus and time-limited nature of TANF, there is increased interest in screening and assessment approaches that can be used to identify these barriers to employment.

In response to this increased interest, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asked The Urban Institute to explore the issues and challenges related to screening and assessment within the TANF context. This paper represents the earliest work under this effort. It identifies ten of the important questions that should be considered by TANF agencies and their partners as they develop approaches to screening and assessing for barriers to employment. By posing these questions, we hope to further the thinking about options for developing approaches to screening and assessment. However, answers to these questions must be developed by TANF agencies and their partners in order to best meet state and local needs and fit within state and local policy guidelines.

This paper is merely a first step in considering some of the many challenges associated with identifying unobserved barriers to employment. In the second phase of this study, we will conduct case studies to further explore how these issues are addressed in a select number of localities. The report based on the case studies will focus specifically on how those localities have answered the questions posed in this report. Regional meetings intended to facilitate discussion among states and localities facing these challenges will also be convened.

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