Panel Paper: State Strategies Designed to Meet the TANF Work Participation Rate and Increase Employment Among Welfare Recipients

Saturday, November 9, 2013 : 8:00 AM
DuPont Ballroom H (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Michelle Derr, Mathematica Policy Research
The Personal Responsibility Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 transformed the country’s welfare system from an entitlement to a conditional cash assistance program by requiring participation in federally defined work activities as a condition of TANF eligibility. TANF created—and later tightened—federal work participation requirements to spur states to move their welfare clients into jobs as they made transitions from cash assistance to permanent employment. In addition, states were required to help recipients find work and meet minimum work participation rates in order for states to avoid financial penalties.

Many clients do not meet work participation requirements. A considerable body of research documents barriers to participation in work and program activities (for example, need for transportation, lack of child care, mental and physical health conditions, domestic abuse) (Danziger et al. 2000; Kirby, Fraker, Pavetti, and Kovac 2003; Zedlewski 2003). Little is known, however, about the engagement status of those not counted in the federal participation rate. There appears to be a range of reasons for non-participation, such as participation in activities that are not federally countable, working too few hours, or waiting to be assigned by the TANF office to work activities, among others (Pavetti 2004; Zedlewski and Holland 2003). But we need to understand more about clients who do not meet federal work requirements.

There has been growing interest in understanding the status of clients not counting toward the work participation rate. The Claims Resolution Act (CRA) of 2010, which temporarily extended the TANF program, required states to document the activities of clients with zero hours of participation in Reports on Engagement.

This paper presentation will report findings from a study Mathematica Policy Research Inc, and its partners, are conducted on behalf of the Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation focusing on TANF work participation. This study has three primary goals: (1) provide a thorough detailed explanation of the reasons why TANF recipients are and are not meeting work requirements; (2) document effective engagement and employment strategies implemented by states and localities; and (3) produce findings that may be used to inform TANF reauthorization. Findings will be based on in-depth site visits to eight communities and telephone calls with state TANF administrators and staff in up to 30 states.  To date, data collection is complete.  Findings will be presented at the Welfare Research and Evaluation Conference in May 2013. A final report for this study will be publicly available by September 30, 2013.