TANF Redesign Pilot Results Show Promise of a Better System
The District’s TANF program has been in the spotlight in recent months, with concerns about low work participation rates and families receiving benefits for long periods of time. But new research shows that District families jump at the chance to participate when the program is working well and services are helpful and appealing. Information released last week highlights that a well-designed welfare-to-work program can engage families and help them move forward.
A new white paper on TANF from the Department of Human Services showcased very encouraging results from a pilot program conducted by the agency in the spring, in which a sample of TANF families test drove substantial changes to DC’s TANF system that are being rolled out this fall. During this pilot, 164 families went through the new TANF orientation, in-depth, received customized assessments with special attention to the identification of barriers and resolvable issues, and were connected to education, training, and work activities especially chosen to suit their unique situations.
The five week pilot program yielded the following results:
- The number of families participating in some TANF work activities – including job training, education, barrier remediation, or other activities agreed-upon during the assessment stage – more than tripled, from 18 percent to 56 percent; and
- The number of families meeting 100 percent of required hour—a figure set by federal guidelines, usually around 20 to 30 hours per week—grew from just three percent to 35 percent.
This type of improvement in participation is especially impressive because of the very short time period of the pilot program – just five weeks. The results confirm that the city’s plan for new TANF system are a big step in the right direction , and they highlight the urgency of fully and quickly implementing the redesign so that all TANF families may be connected with the services they need to move forward.
The results of this pilot are similar to those another pilot welfare-to-work project this year. DC’s new “Sweat Equity” program, highlighted last week in the Washington Post, put a small number of homeless TANF participants into jobs rehabbing vacant housing, which they will be able to live in when the work is done. The Post story highlighted how eager the participants were to succeed.
The results of these two pilot programs also reinforce another critical point: that past low participation rates in TANF activities were in many ways to result of the low quality and effectiveness of the program’s components. The pilot program’s results show that TANF families will quickly become engaged when offered a good orientation, an in-depth assessment, intensive case management, and high-quality vendor programs that match their needs.