Welfare Reform:

Work-Site-Based Activities Can Play an Important Role in TANF Programs

HEHS-00-122: Published: Jul 28, 2000. Publicly Released: Jul 28, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) work-site programs, focusing on: (1) the key characteristics of work-site activities states and localities are using in their TANF programs; (2) the key challenges to implementing and administering work-site activities and some of the ways that states and localities have addressed these challenges; and (3) what is known about the effects work-site activities have had on participants' ability to successfully make the transition to unsubsidized employment and on their communities.

GAO noted that: (1) the work-site activities at the locations GAO visited have in common the assignment of TANF recipients to public or private sector employers to perform work in areas such as building maintenance, clerical work, unskilled health care, and food service; (2) however, these work-site activities differ in two key ways; (3) they play varying roles in their state's or locality's TANF program, with some TANF programs requiring almost all recipients who have not found a job after a fixed period of time to participate in work-site activities and others targeting work-site participation to individuals who face multiple barriers to work; (4) the work-site activities GAO reviewed range from those in which participants are expected to work in exchange for a welfare check to those in which participants: (a) receive paychecks subsidized by TANF funds or other funding sources from which payroll taxes, including Social Security, are deducted; and (b) qualify for the Earned Income Credit (EIC); (5) states and localities GAO visited have overcome multiple challenges in implementing and administering their work-site activities, including the challenge of recruiting employers and involving participants; (6) while states and localities GAO visited generally have outcome data on key aspects of their TANF programs, such as the number of TANF recipients who find unsubsidized employment or leave welfare, less is known about outcomes specifically for work-site activity participants, and information is not available on the effectiveness of work-site activities in promoting employment; (7) in cases where outcome data on employment and earnings for work-site participants are available, the data are not comparable among the different work-site activities; (8) while outcome data are valuable in helping to understand the extent to which work-site participants become employed, an evaluation using these data would be needed to determine a work-site activity's effectiveness; (9) program administrators, participants, and others suggest that work-site activities can help participants with no prior work experience develop a resume and at the same time provide community services; (10) however, some critics say that some work-site activities do not provide the necessary level or experience or skills to enable participants to make the transition to unsubsidized employment that leads to economic independence; and (11) some critics also say that work-site participants are brought in to replace regular salaried employees.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To make available more information on the effectiveness of work-site activities, which could play an increasingly important role as welfare reform evolves, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) should require states to provide more information in the state TANF plans or annual reports that they must file with HHS on the key characteristics of work-site activities they are using. For example, states could include in their plans such information as whether a work-site activity participant receives a welfare check or paycheck, qualifies for EIC, can earn more than his or her grant amount, and is considered to be receiving TANF assistance that counts toward the federal time limit.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO's report discussed the important role that work-site activities could play in the TANF program and recommended that HHS require states to provide more information on their existing programs to share with all states as a way to educate states about, and place greater emphasis on, work-site activities. In preparing for TANF reauthorization, HHS took steps to emphasize work-site activities. It developed and sponsored legislation, adopted by the House and under consideration by the Senate, that focused on increasing work requirements for welfare recipients. These increased requirements emphasize states greater use of the type of work-site activities GAO featured in its report, including subsidized private and public sector employment, on-the-job training, and supervised work/community experience.

    Recommendation: To make available more information on the effectiveness of work-site activities, which could play an increasingly important role as welfare reform evolves, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should use HHS' regional offices' technical assistance activities, HHS-sponsored conferences, and other means available to identify promising work-site approaches used by the states and localities in their TANF programs, and collect and disseminate information on them.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: After issuance of the recommendation, HHS, in concert with Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., completed a study designed to to identify promising employment-focused strategies for individuals on welfare who face challenges in their efforts to leave welfare for work. In particular, the study identified and provided detailed information about the design and structure of work-based programs that serve or that have the potential to serve hard-to-employ TANF recipients. The final report was disseminated by HHS' Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE), and discussed at OPRE's annual research conference--attended by state TANF administrators--in May 2001.

    Recommendation: To make available more information on the effectiveness of work-site activities, which could play an increasingly important role as welfare reform evolves, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should encourage states and localities to rigorously evaluate their work-site activities, particularly by providing financial support for evaluations to increase knowledge of the effectiveness of various types of work-site activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: After issuance of the recommendation, HHS, in concert with Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., completed and disseminated a report that identified different types of work-site activities aimed at helping welfare recipients prepare for work, and assessed the feasibility of conducting a rigorous, large-scale evaluation of such programs, including options for random assignment. In addition, HHS is sponsoring other research on helping welfare recipients find and keep jobs that includes an evaluation of New York City's PRIDE program, which GAO noted in the report as one type of program that includes work-site activities.

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