The District Dime’s New Year’s Wish List: Part 2
Our second 2012 wish is for the successful rollout of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) redesign.
The District is in the midst of implementing a new approach to education and training in TANF, the welfare-to-work program that assists one in three families with children in DC. The reforms result from a recognition that prior TANF services were not adequately helping parents move towards employment. Early results are very promising; a pilot of the new program resulted in a ten-fold increase in the share of TANF recipients participating in work activities.
The new approach — referred to as “universal engagement” — is built on the expectation that all parents on TANF should either prepare for work or address problems that may interfere with employment. Universal engagement recognizes that these expectations need to be tailored to the parent’s education level, work experience, and challenges. Some parents have the skills to immediately seek employment. Others need job training or education first. Some need to address other employment barriers such as mental illness, low literacy, or a substance abuse problem before they can enter training.
Some key components of the new program include:
- Assessment of Client Skills/Barriers: The starting point is an in-depth individual assessment of skills, barriers, education, and goals to best match clients with needed services.
- Program Orientation: Parents receive a comprehensive orientation to help them understand options available to them for education, training, and supportive services, as well as their rights and responsibilities.
- Development of Individual Responsibility Plan: Each parent works with the Department of Human Services to develop a customized “Individual Responsibility Plan” (IRP) to specify what the parent is expected to do to make progress toward employment.
- Parents who have reasonable levels of job skills and work experience and limited personal barriers to work will receive job placement services to help connect quickly with employment. Parents who have limited job skills or work experience, but who otherwise face little or no personal barriers to work; will be offered “work readiness” services to help them prepare for employment, including education or training. Finally, parents with barriers, such as low literacy or domestic violence — will be expected to address those barriers before preparing for work.
These reforms hold much promise but there are major implementation challenges. DHS will need to assess more than 11,000 TANF families currently required to participate in work preparation activities before these families will be allowed to access these new services. There is an added time pressure as thousands of families are slated for a reduction in benefits to just $257 a month in October 2012. In many cases, the parents will not have had the opportunity to take advantage of the new, improved services prior to this reduction.
Our wish for 2012 is that every family will have adequate time to benefit from these improved services and make progress towards stability and self-sufficiency.
Check back in with the District Dime tomorrow to see our comprehensive 2012 wish list and perhaps a few fun predictions for the coming year.