Welfare-to-Work Grants Programs: Adjusting to Changing Circumstances. B. Suggested Improvements

11/01/2003

While they freely discussed the valuable role WtW grants played in their agencies and communities, administrators also offered several suggestions and recommendations for policymakers that could have improved the program. Some of them also reiterated the frustrations they had during the first two years related to the eligibility restrictions. One administrator echoed what many others said:

"…WtW was great. We really helped this very needy population negotiate a complex system to help them get to work. But I don't think any program will ever be as terrifying to operate [referring to the eligibility criteria and the 70/30 spending requirements]."

Based on their experiences, grantee administrators offered several suggestions that could have helped.

  • Higher federal priority. A few administrators suggested that a higher priority on the WtW grants program from the national offices at DOL and HHS would have been very helpful in the first two years. WIA administrators explained that at the time, they were also starting up WIA and naturally DOL was focused more on that than on WtW. But in a few areas (such as outreach and recruitment), more information or technical assistance from the federal agencies, especially DOL, might have made WtW implementation and start-up go more smoothly. More assistance from HHS might have helped improve the flow of recipients from TANF to WtW and streamline the procedures for verifying recipients' eligibility for WtW.
  • Permanent funding or a longer funding period. Several administrators noted that they were disappointed that j Just when the programs were becoming stable, the funding ended, and that this happened at a time when other funding sources were also becoming more restrictive. While in general grantees are finding other funding to allow them to continue programs, at least for the next year or so, several administrators are pessimistic about the prospects for longer-term fu inding. They are especially concerned that TANF funding for employment programs is being reduced in many states and that they are hearing that there may be reductions in WIA funding in 2003 and 2004. One noted that "…just when resources like the WtW grants could really make a huge difference in program resources, the funding is ending." Thus, while it is not clear whether longer or permanent funding would result in an increase in services to welfare recipients generally, or whether it would expand agencies' capacity to serve hard-to-employ individuals, the opinions of several administrators is that permanent funding would make a difference.
  • Broader eligibility. Congress did eventually broaden the eligibility criteria, but in many sites, it was too late to make much of a difference since many administrative processes were already in place, including subcontracts with program operators and procedures for referring clients from TANF agencies. Administrators strongly advised policymakers that when temporary programs like WtW are enacted, it is critical that the eligibility criteria be as flexible as possible to allow programs to be developed and started up within the limited time periods allowed.

In conclusion, despite the early implementation difficulties, the consensus of grantee administrators in the study sites seems to be that the WtW grants program was very important in helping develop programs at the local level. Despite the early implementation problems, the positive comments we heard reflect the general sense of administrators that the funds provided them with unique flexibility to create often innovative programs. The disappointment at the loss of WtW funding is reflected in the following quotes from two WIA administrators:

"WtW has been very useful. Our [program] contractors have put out real efforts to run good programs and emphasize job placement and upgrading. After working so hard to start up these great comprehensive programs — some of them are really super — it is sad to see it all end now. And with it ends some of the continuing learning that has been occurring in the programs."

And…

"This is absolutely one of the best programs I've ever worked with. It brought the community and agencies all together. This is one program that worked — especially for noncustodial parents. I've never felt more devastated at the loss of a federal program than with this one."

Thus, in the study sites, there is general agreement among the grantee administrators that, after a long and frustrating start-up period, the presence of the WtW funding and the flexibility allowed in designing program models made for what administrators generally consider a positive experience.

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