A Study of Work Participation and Full Engagement Strategies. Key Findings from the Administrative Data Analysis


The analysis of administrative data on program participation in El Paso County, Colorado, and Utah reveals that more TANF recipients are engaged in activities than federal participation rates suggest. A substantial portion of the caseload is engaged only in nonfederal activities or combines nonfederal with federally countable activities. Currently the vast majority of these recipients are not counted in the numerator of the federal participation rate calculation either because they are not engaged in one of the 12 activities considered in the calculation or because they are not engaged in one or more of those 12 activities for the minimum number of hours required in the calculation. If these recipients were included in the numerator, it is likely that federal participation would be much higher than they are now.

In addition, TANF recipients seem to be engaged in activities for a substantial number of hours per week, though not necessarily for the 30 hours required of single parents under the federal law. Recipients actually participate in federally countable activities for the majority of time they are assigned, and even though a substantial portion of the caseload is assigned to nonfederal activities, these activities account for a relatively small proportion of recipients' weekly activity time.

Finally, it is difficult to keep TANF recipients engaged in activities over time, and progress up the activity ladder is slow. The longer a recipient remains on TANF, the more likely she is to receive assistance without being assigned to participate in any program activities. And recipients who are assigned to program activities tend to remain in the same kinds of activities for extended periods of time  including activities which count toward the federal participation rate for only limited periods of time, such as job search or job readiness activities  without progressing to activities that are higher on the list of federal priorities. This evidence suggests that sites striving to engage all or most TANF recipients in work or work-related activities may have to demonstrate patience and a willingness to "stay the course" with recipients who move relatively slowly toward self-sufficiency or develop improved strategies for addressing their needs.


(1) A description of the administrative data in each site appears in Appendix B.

(2) Data supporting all findings and statistics referenced in the report may be found in the tables in Appendix C, regardless of whether the findings and statistics are presented in tables or figures throughout the body of the report. Some of the tables in Appendix C present more results than are discussed in the body of the report.

(3) We assume that the data on hours of participation in Utah more accurately reflect assigned hours than scheduled hours given the inconsistency with which case managers overwrite assigned hours with actual hours of participation.

(4) Note that analyses do not include recipients who participated in an activity to which they were not assigned.

(5) In El Paso County, data on number of months in activities are based on monthly confirmations of activity assignments. In Utah, data on number of months in activities are based on activity start and end dates.

(6) Hard-to-employ recipients receive case management services from county staff and job-ready recipients receive case management services from staff at a contracted service provider. For each TANF recipient, the data in El Paso County's MIS distinguishes the type of staff  county or contracted  providing the case management services.

(7) In El Paso County, all recipients should be included in the federal participation rate calculation, but they are exempt from participation requirements if they are disabled, caring for a severely disabled child, or under a federally recognized good cause domestic violence waiver. In Utah, all recipients should be included in the calculation except those subject to sanction for no more than three months within the preceding twelve months, and those who are disabled are exempt from participation requirements.

(8) Recall that analyses are for adult recipients only; child-only cases are not subject to participation requirements and are also excluded from the denominator of the participation rate calculation.

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