A Study of Work Participation and Full Engagement Strategies. Riverside County, California A Focus on Work Plus Education and Training


Riverside County, California, is the only site among the seven included in this study that exempts a substantial percentage of TANF recipients  about 12 percent of the caseload  from participation in any program activities. However, nonexempt clients must participate in work or work-related activities. According to criteria set by the state, the following groups of recipients are exempt:

  • Those with disabilities expected to last at least 30 days as verified by a physician
  • Those caring for an ill or incapacitated family member
  • Pregnant women who cannot work or participate, as recommended by a physician
  • Those caring for a first baby up to six months of age or a subsequent baby up to four months of age
  • Individuals older than 60 or younger than 16 who are in school full time
  • Nonparent relatives caring for dependents at risk of being placed in foster care

Exempting these recipients leaves Riverside County with a TANF population that is more work-ready relative to programs in other study sites.

Riverside County was one of the first counties in the nation to develop a strong work-first approach for welfare recipients, and it continues to operate under that approach today for its nonexempt recipients. California state policy requires nonexempt adults in single-parent families to participate in work activities for 32 hours per week and in two-parents families to participate for a combined 35 hours per week. Twenty of the 32 or 35 hours must be devoted to employment or to activities directly relevant to securing employment. In addition, Riverside County allows recipients to participate in nonfederal activities  such as mental health or substance abuse treatment, domestic violence counseling, and English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction. Recipients may participate in these activities alone for a temporary period of time or for up to 12 or 15 hours per week in combination with federally countable activities indefinitely.

Riverside County recently embarked on an effort to maximize engagement among employed TANF recipients. In 1999, the county began to encourage education and training among working recipients with an eye toward increasing their hours of participation and helping them move on to better jobs. The message under this new program model is that work plus education and training is the best way to become self-sufficient. To put the new philosophy into practice, county administrators developed a two-phase program consisting of intensive job search activities for recipients without substantial employment (Phase I) and job retention and advancement activities combined with education and training for recipients working at least 20 hours per week at minimum wage or higher (Phase II). In 2000, the county expanded its approach to a third phase, which offers continued supportive services for those who have left TANF for work.

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