Welfare Intern Program Helps Both Sides
McGuire, Kevin, Policy & Practice
One of the challenges I face as an administrator is the need to come up with creative solutions while dealing with constantly shifting priorities. This is especially true with the passage of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA), which has me scrambling to address the many changes to our programs. But challenges often come with opportunities. This is especially true when it comes to our Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in Maryland.
We were looking for ways to increase our work participation rate quickly and doing it in a way that created value for those we served. We had been successful in reducing dependency and promoting self-sufficiency through work. These are the hallmarks of a successful TANF program.
While embracing the concept of full engagement, most of our programs did not count toward the federal work participation rate. In part this was because we focused on a quick attachment to the labor force. More often than not this resulted in case closure. Whatever activities remained were directed toward removal of barriers or interventions to address substance abuse, physical disability, mental illness, or other issues, which are most often intertwined.
But while not meeting the definition of a federally countable activity, we saw the value in retaining them. We also had clients in federally defined activities either not attending enough hours or in activities such as job search, which cut down the time that could be counted toward the work participation rate.
With the dawning of the DRA, we began the process of procuring new contracts that would increase our work participation rate, but realized that it would take many months before they could start. We eventually came up with what we refer to as our WEX Intern, or "work experience," program. Work experience counted toward the federal work participation rate, could be immediately put in place, and resulted in tangible benefits to public assistance recipients who would do work not previously done by public employees. With the implementation of WEX, we got the help we needed from those who had been sitting in our waiting areas. …