Welfare-to-Work Grants Programs: Adjusting to Changing Circumstances. A. Some Positive Experiences with WtW Grants


Administrators in the grantee and program agencies in the study sites were quite positive about the WtW grants program and the opportunities the grant funding afforded them. In particular, some noted that the grants helped improve the interaction between WIA and TANF agencies, and several said that the flexibility in the grants programs allowed them to design and implement some employment strategies that they consider innovative.

Improved interaction between WIA and TANF in some sites. When asked what they thought the legacy of WtW might be, several administrators mentioned the improved interaction between agencies that administered the WtW grant-funded programs and the TANF agency. From the perspective of grantee administrators (most of whom are WIA administrators), the WtW grants generally had a positive effect on the interaction and collaboration between the workforce development system and the TANF system. At a minimum, grantees were required to establish procedures for referring individuals from TANF to WtW programs, and in some sites, according to WIA administrators at least, this interaction led to a better understanding of each other's programs and policies at the staff level.

There was, however, substantial variation across local sites in terms of how important those linkages were considered to be and whether the collaborative efforts undertaken for the WtW grants program will have a lasting impact. In several study sites, WtW administrators anticipated that collaboration would continue well into the future after the WtW funds are exhausted, and that this will improve welfare recipients' access to services through the workforce development system.

Some WIA administrators felt there may be some lasting positive effect of WtW because their agency or One-Stop Career Centers had to focus more attention on welfare recipients as a condition of receiving the federal funding. Administrators in several study sites indicated that the WtW grants helped reinforce the importance of welfare recipients as a priority group for WIA and in the One-Stop Career Centers. While it is not possible to say whether more welfare recipients will be served in the future or the priority given them will continue, WIA administrators in some sites did feel that having the WtW grants helped establish welfare recipients as a key group and transformed the working relationship between the welfare agency and the workforce agency. As one of the WIA administrators(7) explained:

"…WtW has allowed One-Stop staff that traditionally worked mainly with dislocated workers to branch out and serve much larger numbers of welfare customers. This has broadened the horizon of board and staff in terms of who WIA (and the WIB) can effectively serve. WtW was the single most important funding stream we have received in changing perceptions about who the workforce development system could serve. WtW added a whole new element - it allowed us to be creative and try new things."

Those grantees that were also contractors for delivering TANF or Food Stamp work programs were able to combine funds to serve welfare recipients through the One-Stop Career Centers after the WtW grants ended, although they were not able to serve as many welfare recipients as when they had the WtW grants. Several WIA administrators said that they expect to continue to blend resources to serve the hard-to-employ even after the grants end. For example, in one site nearly one-third of the WIA agency's funding for the One-Stop system it administers is associated with public assistance or TANF (the TANF work program, WtW, Food Stamps Employment and Training, and other federal grants for retention services). Thus, after WtW funding ends, that WIA agency will still have considerable resources specifically for welfare recipients, and the administrator explained that the experience they gained from WtW greatly improved their ability to sponsor innovative programs (e.g., supportive services, post-employment services, financial planning, and workplace-based skills training).

In contrast, in several sites, WtW had minimal, if any, effect on interagency collaboration in large part because the WtW-funded program operated fairly independently from both TANF and the One-Stop Centers. In a few sites, the only interaction with TANF involved TANF staff referring individuals to WtW programs, or allowing WtW program representatives to provide information or do outreach in local welfare offices. In some sites, collaboration between the WtW grantee and the TANF agency WIA/one-stop system never really developed and, hence, there is no lasting effect of WtW funding on collaboration.

Increased local program capacity to serve welfare recipients and noncustodial parents in some sites. In some places, the WtW grants allowed not only the WIA agency and One-Stop Center to refine their services to welfare recipients, but also provided considerable funding to community-based organizations that was used to develop new programs for welfare recipients or enhance existing programs. For example, in Chicago, the WIA agency is not a TANF contractor, but nearly every WtW program sub-grantee by 2003 was either a TANF contractor, a WIA intensive services contractor, or both. Before WtW, most of the program operators had been JTPA training contractors, and some had small TANF contracts to provide services. After the start of the WtW grants program, the state TANF agency increased it use of contractors to deliver work program services. The WtW experience reportedly allowed those providers, many of them nonprofit community-based organizations, to gain valuable experience in providing intensive case management services and brokering comprehensive services participants might need. This improved capacity positioned them to win both TANF and WIA contracts for intensive employment-related services when those funding opportunities arose.

The WtW grants also allowed agencies and grantees to develop programs for non-custodial parents, and several grantee administrators reported that developing capacity in this area was one of their major accomplishments under WtW. As one explained:

"WtW has enabled [this agency] to offer noncustodial parents a variety of different programs and workshops, which we had never done before. It has also enabled [us] to form new partnerships with a variety of agencies and community groups we had not worked with before."

Perhaps the best example of how an NCP focus evolved with WtW funding is the Milwaukee NOW program, developed by the Department of Corrections with WtW funding, to serve noncustodial fathers on parole or probation. While it took a couple of years for the program to stabilize, by 2003 staff and administrators felt they had acquired important programmatic experience, including operational coordination between the program staff and parole and probation officers and between the program and local one-stop centers (W-2 agencies).

Other funding (WIA, Food Stamps Employment and Training, retention and advancement grant funds, prisoner reentry funds, and fatherhood grants) also became available for NCPs during the same time frame. In addition to the Milwaukee NOW program, a number of agencies in the study sites (e.g., Yakima, Tarrant County [Texas], West Virginia HRDF), were blending funds in creative ways to expand services. By 2003, administrators in several study sites noted that NCPs were their primary WtW target group. As one explained, "WtW brought together groups for the first time to focus on noncustodial parents."

Opportunities for innovative programming. Several WtW grantee and program administrators explained that the WtW grants allowed them to think about and then develop creative program service approaches and administrative practices. They mentioned innovative programming such as employer partnerships, transitional and supported employment, intensive case management, post-employment case management and retention services, and special programs for particular populations (e.g., substance abusers, noncustodial parents, and persons with mental health needs). One administrator noted:

"WtW funding gave us the opportunity to demonstrate a [paid transitional job] model that was successful. It also enabled a lot of people to experience a program that they might not otherwise have accessed. WtW was a useful funding stream."

Administrators in rural sites also noted that WtW enabled them to serve rural populations and design programs well-suited for rural areas. While it was difficult to start up some projects and often was very costly (due to transportation and wage subsidies, for example), administrators felt that WtW grants expanded services and opportunities to rural welfare recipients in ways not previously possible. Again, it is not possible here to determine whether or not services actually have increased or improved, but it is important to note administrators believe that rural services did improve with the availability of WtW grants.

In some sites, the programmatic experience gained in WtW is being adapted in WIA programming. In Boston, the experience gained in incorporating intensive case management in both pre- and post-employment components was considered so important that the WIA agency now emphasizes that in all programs. Furthermore, the WtW funds in Boston were used to operate employer partnerships where one or more businesses collaborated with a nonprofit service provider whose staff provided case management and post-employment support services. As with case management, the WtW success with businesses has led the WIA agency to encourage business links in all programs whenever possible.

Some WtW administrative and management innovations were also noted. In Chicago, for example, the WIA agency contracted out all the competitive and formula WtW funds using a new Request for Proposals process and included negotiated objectives in each contract. As noted by one WIA administrator, those contractual processes were subsequently incorporated into WIA:

"WIA was modeled after WtW in terms of operating concepts and service delivery contracting."

A major — but temporary — funding source for One-Stop Centers. Regardless of whether the WtW grants had positive effects on the interaction between TANF and WIA agencies, and regardless of whether the grants helped expand program capacity in the communities, there is no doubt that the infusion of WtW grant funds alone had an important effect on some WIA agencies and One-Stop Centers. In several One-Stop Centers, one-third or more of the total operating funds in 2001 and 2002 came from WtW or from WtW plus TANF contracts. Although supporting the One-Stop infrastructure was not an objective of the grants program, w With WtW funds almost depleted and, in some states, TANF funds for employment services also being reduced, some administrators expressed concern about the adequacy of funding for One-Stop Centers in future years.

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