A Study of Work Participation and Full Engagement Strategies. Broadly Defined and Flexible Program Requirements


Most of the study sites used broadly defined and flexible program requirements to encourage wide participation in program activities. To engage all or most TANF recipients in program activities, six of the seven study sites have flexible work requirements; that is, they define allowable activities broadly and provide case managers with discretion to decide which activities should be included in a recipients' employment services plan. Four of the six also allow flexibility in the number of required hours for at least some portion of the TANF caseload (see Table III.1). Case managers in all sites are encouraged to place recipients in federally countable activities when the activities are deemed appropriate to facilitate the transition to paid employment. However, case managers in sites that define acceptable activities broadly are encouraged to place recipients who are not ready for work in activities that best address their circumstances and needs--often as a first step to be followed by placement in federally countable activities.


Table III.1.
Defining Participation Hours And Activities
  Flexibility with Hours Limited Flexibility with Hours
Broad range of activities Utah
El Paso County
Wisconsin (W-2T)*
Oswego (Pathways)*
Montgomery County
Riverside County
Oswego County (traditional)*
Wisconsin (CSJ)*
Limited range of activities   Franklin County
* Indicates study sites that use two different approaches within the same site.

Sites seeking broad participation allow case managers to go beyond federally countable activities in case planning. Nonfederal activities fall into several categories as shown in Table III.2. Many of the activities are designed to address personal and family challenges such as domestic abuse, physical and mental health conditions, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, and learning disabilities. Others are intended to help clients obtain work supports, such as child care or transportation, before securing employment. Still others are geared toward facilitating recipient efforts to obtain services or comply with service plans in other agencies (for example, relating to child welfare, social security, and public housing). El Paso County and Utah offer the broadest range of nonfederal activities to the broadest group of TANF recipients.

Although six of the seven sites define activities broadly, they differ in terms of the extent of flexibility afforded to the case managers who work with recipients to design employment plans. Three sites  Montgomery County, El Paso County, and Oswego County  have formal lists of program activities to help guide case managers' decisions.(1) The remaining sites (Utah, Wisconsin, and Riverside County) allow case managers complete flexibility in assigning clients to activities. Case managers who are afforded this level of flexibility are usually required to justify their selection of activities.


Table III.2.
Going Beyond Federally Defined Activities
Employment and Training Accessing Work Supports Specialized Treatment Life Skills Child-Related Activities Requirements for Other Agencies
Vocational Rehabilitation Homework for college program Find child care provider

Obtain drivers license

Apply for transportation assistance (e.g., car repairs, auto loans, bus passes)

Obtain work-related equipment or clothing

Specialized assessment

Physical or mental health treatment

Substance abuse treatment

Domestic violence

Physical or developmental disabilities

Pre-natal programs

Services for learning disabilities

Family life skills

Teen parent services

Parenting programs


Personal development activities (e.g., journal writing)

Organizational skills workshops

Budgeting skills workshops

Attend school appointments

Help with homework

Attend to physical or mental health conditions

Volunteer for child-related activities (e.g., little league, tutor in child's class)

Comply with child support enforcement

Child welfare service plan (for dual agency families)

Apply for SSI

Attend court appointments

Apply for housing assistance

The sites also differ in whether they allow participation in nonfederal activities alone or only in combination with federally countable activities. In both Utah and El Paso County, and for recipients in Wisconsin in the W-2T (Transitions) tier, TANF recipients can participate in activities that are deemed most appropriate to address their needs and circumstances, regardless of whether they are federally countable or not. In the other sites, recipients can only participate in nonfederal activities in combination with federally countable activities. For example, TANF recipients in Wisconsin who are assigned to the community service jobs tier (see Chapter II) must participate in their work placement for at least 20 of the federally required 30 hours per week, leaving 10 hours for other activities. Recipients in Riverside County face similar demands--20 of the county's 32 required hours must be devoted to federally countable activities.

In addition to defining program activities broadly, sites seeking broad participation may reduce participation hours for those with personal and family challenges. Three of the study sites allow case managers to temporarily reduce the required number of participation hours for individuals with personal and family challenges that interfere with their ability to work. For recipients in Utah, El Paso County, and Wisconsin's W-2T tier, case managers can reduce the number of hours to whatever they feel is reasonable. The goal is to develop a plan that moves a recipient toward employment without imposing unrealistic expectations.

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