A Study of Work Participation and Full Engagement Strategies. Participation and Progress Over Time

09/01/2004

Most TANF programs strive to build recipients' capacity for employment and self-sufficiency. Though they may offer a range of activities to meet recipients' needs, most programs want recipients to progress from activities that address their barriers and supportive service needs to ones that provide more direct work experience and job search support (and finally, to unsubsidized employment). In fact, PRWORA includes provisions intended to prevent recipients from languishing on the caseload, including time limits on assistance, requirements for states to engage recipients in work (as defined by states) after two years of welfare receipt, and limits on the amount of time job search/job readiness activities and vocational education count toward the federal participation rate.

However, the majority of recipients tend to remain in a given set of activities for several months. Two-thirds of recipients in nonfederal activities in El Paso County remain in those activities for at least three to five months, and on average, recipients in nonfederal activities in Utah remain in those activities for over eight months (see Table V.8).(5) However, recipients may move more often from one activity to the next within the set of all nonfederal activities. For instance, a recipient in nonfederal activities for six months may participate in domestic violence counseling for four months and life skills training for two months. Similarly, two-thirds of recipients in job search and job readiness activities in El Paso County remain in those activities for at least three to five months, and on average, recipients in these activities in Utah remain in them for over five months. In fact, among all adult recipients in El Paso County, almost one-third are assigned to job search/job readiness activities or education activities beyond the maximum time that those activities count toward the federal participation rate (similar data are not available for Utah). However, many of them may be participating in other activities along with extended job search or education; recall that 47 percent in El Paso and 70 percent in Utah are assigned to two or more activities concurrently.

Table V.8.
Length of Time Recipients Remained in Activities
  Percentage in El Paso County Average in Utah
1-2 months 3-5 months  
Nonfederal activities 35.2% 64.8% 8.4
Job search/job readiness 35.8% 64.2% 5.2
Employment 49.1-53.8% 46.2-50.9% 6.9

Moreover, an increasing percentage of recipients remaining on TANF is not assigned to any activities at all as time goes on. Among a cohort of TANF recipients in a typical month, the percentage assigned to no activities doubles within five to six months  from 10 to 20 percent in El Paso County within five months and from 18 to 38 percent in Utah within six months (see Figure V.3 and Figure V.4). The proportion of recipients remaining on TANF who are in federally countable or allowable activities shrinks over the same period, though at a somewhat slower pace. These data suggest that it may be difficult to keep recipients engaged in activities over time and that programs may need to develop better strategies for working with those who do not find employment or leave the rolls quickly.

Finally, the majority of recipients who stay on the caseload for five to six months do not, during that time, progress from nonfederal to federally countable activities, or from other federally countable to core federally countable activities. In El Paso County, more than 70 percent of recipients remained in the same category of activities for five months, while 20 percent made forward progress at some point and 9 percent actually moved backward at some point (see Figure V.5). In Utah, 56 percent remained in the same category of activities for six months, while 23 percent made progress at some point and 21 percent moved backward at some point.

Figure 3.
Assigned Activities Over Time Among August 2003 Cases in El Paso County

Assigned Activities Over Time Among August 2003 Cases in El Paso County

Figure 4.
Assigned Activities Over Time Among May 2003 Cases in Utah

Assigned Activities Over Time Among May 2003 Cases in Utah

Figure 5.
Progress from Nonfederal Only to Countable Activities and from
Other Countable to Core Countable Activities

Progress from Nonfederal Only to Countable Activities and from Other Countable to Core Countable Activities

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