A Study of Work Participation and Full Engagement Strategies. Assigned and Actual Hours of Participation


Our analysis of assigned and actual hours of participation is based on MIS data. Most states and counties, including El Paso County and Utah, use different methods to record TANF program participation hours in their MIS. In El Paso County, case managers record assigned hours of participation and actual hours of participation in separate fields, but are required to do so only for federally countable activities; as a result, data on hours of participation in nonfederal activities are incomplete or nonexistent in El Paso County's MIS. In Utah, case managers record assigned hours of participation in each and every activity  federally countable and nonfederal activities  in the state MIS and are instructed to overwrite assigned hours with actual hours if the two vary. The extent to which they make this change, however, varies with how often they meet with recipients, their ability to closely track participation, and competing caseload demands. While it is therefore difficult to compare data on or draw conclusions about hours of participation across the two sites, the data do suggest a number of basic findings.

First, recipients are assigned to participate in activities for a substantial number of hours per week but not necessarily the 30 hours required of single parents under the current federal participation rate definition. In El Paso County, recipients are assigned for an average of 24 hours per week to each federally countable, and for an average of 36 hours per week in total across all of these activities (see Table V.5). However, more than one-third of recipients assigned to federally countable activities are assigned for fewer than 30 hours per week. In Utah, recipients are assigned to all types of activities for a combined average of 22 hours per week, and almost two-thirds are assigned to activities  including federally countable and nonfederal activities  for fewer than 30 hours per week.(3)

Table V.5.
Average Assigned Weekly Hours in a Typical Month
  Percentage or Average
El Paso County
(in federally countable activities only)
(in all types of activities)
1-19 12.7% 39.7%
20-29 22.5% 21.3%
30-39 26.0% 27.8%
40+ 38.8% 11.2%
Average total 36.1 22.0
Average per activity 24.4 7.9

Second, even though a substantial portion of the caseload is assigned to nonfederal activities, these activities account for a relatively small share of a recipient's weekly participation time. In Utah, weekly assigned hours in federally countable activities are substantially higher than weekly assigned hours in nonfederal activities (recall that there are no data on hours in nonfederal activities in El Paso County). On average, recipients in nonfederal activities are assigned to those activities for 4 to 5 hours per week, compared with 24 hours for employment, 21 hours for work experience, 25 hours for on-the-job training, 15 hours for job search, 18 hours for vocational education, 11 hours for education with no high school diploma, and 13 hours for satisfactory school (see Table V.6).

Table V.6.
Average Assigned Weekly Hours
in Activities in a Typical Month in Utah
Employment 23.6
Work experience 21.1
On-the-job training 25.9
Job search 14.8
Vocational education 17.9
Job skills training 11.5
Education with no high school degree 11.4
Satisfactory school 12.9
Non-federal activities 4.5

Finally, recipients are actually participating in federally countable activities for the majority of time they are assigned. On average, across all of these activities, TANF recipients in El Paso County actually participate for 70 percent of the time they are assigned (recall that there are no data distinguishing actual and assigned hours of participation in Utah) (see Table V.7). Still, however, about one-quarter of the caseload is still not actively participating in any of the federally countable activities to which they are assigned.

Recipients spend the most time relative to assigned hours in education-related activities and even more time than they are assigned in job skills training and basic education. This may be because job skills training and education courses provide more hours of instruction than required by TANF programs.(4) In contrast, they spend the least amount of time relative to assigned hours in job search and job readiness activities. However, it is often more difficult to track hours of actual participation in job search and job readiness activities for two reasons. First, many of these activities are self-directed, and second, the calculation of hours may correspond not to the actual time devoted to the activity but to the number and types of employer contacts or other accomplishments such as the development of a resume. For instance, one telephone contact may be considered equivalent to one hour of participation, or one face-to-face contact equivalent to four hours of participation. In addition, TANF recipients who find jobs might stop participating in assigned job search/job readiness activities pending the start of their employment. Therefore, the extent to which the data on actual hours in job search and job readiness reflect true levels of participation as opposed to limitations of data collection or definitions is not clear.

Table V.7.
Participation in Federally Counactivities in El Paso County
  Ratio of Actual to Assigned Hours
Any activity 0.70
Job search/job readiness 0.35
Post-secondary education 0.92
Job skills training 1.10
Basic education 1.42
Percent with no actual hours 24.6%

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