Academic journal article Social Work

The Family Support Act: Reinventing the Wheel?

Academic journal article Social Work

The Family Support Act: Reinventing the Wheel?

Article excerpt

On October 13, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Family Support Act, which established the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training Program (JOBS). The act requires that states provide education, training, and employment activities for employable individuals who have children over three years of age and who are receiving benefits from the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. The activities may include participation in basic or remedial education, high school education, instruction in English as a second language, job readiness preparation, vocational education, on-the-job training, job search assistance, work experience, or postsecondary education. Additional supports include child care for participants' dependents and, for those who find work, Medicaid coverage and transitional child care for 12 months after employment. The goal of JOBS is to enable these individuals to improve their employment opportunities and to become self-sufficient.

This new initiative may be less than revolutionary. Neustadt and May (1986) stressed that the historical relevance of past programs should be evaluated by policymakers and legislators when planning new programs, because comparing past with present strategies provides an opportunity to learn from previous successes and failures and therefore to develop realistic plans. Aspects of JOBS are similar to some components of the Work Incentive Program (WIN), which preceded it. WIN applied to employable AFDC recipients who had children over the age of six and included training, education, and work experience activities.

A study completed by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO, 1973) indicated that limited employment opportunities and unwieldy caseloads hampered the effectiveness of WIN. A more recent GAO study (1988) reinforced the finding that state welfare department caseworkers had large caseloads, allowing them insufficient time to serve their clients. Although WIN emphasized the need for training and education to promote self-sufficiency, the emphasis changed when it became clear that recipients were not obtaining jobs in sufficient numbers and that the welfare rolls had not diminished (Goodwin, 1989). As a result, priority was given to placement in jobs rather than to education or training programs (Glantz & Byrne, 1981).

However, less than 2 percent of the total AFDC population became employed through WIN because the program failed to tailor its activities to existing labor market conditions (Schiller, 1973). Most of the jobs found were temporary ones, requiring minimal skills and paying only slightly more than the minimum wage (Garvin, Smith, & Reid, 1978; Sulvetta, 1978). Because of the experiences of WIN, it is apparent that caseload size, placement in educational and training activities, and the type of job a participant obtains are important considerations when evaluating JOBS. This article presents findings from an exploratory study of JOBS, examines and analyzes information received in response to a survey of state JOBS programs, and discusses whether JOBS shares the same problems faced by WIN.

Methodology

The survey sought the following information:

* average caseload size for caseworkers actively involved in education, training, and employment activities for JOBS

* types of activities (training, education, and employment) available for JOBS participants

* percentage of JOBS participants who obtained employment

* average earned hourly income of JOBS participants who obtained employment

* occupational areas in which employment was found for JOBS participants.

In March 1991, the survey and a descriptive cover letter were sent to directors of JOBS programs in all 50 states. Names and addresses were obtained from the Annual Directory of the American Public Welfare Association (Weinstein, 1991). Forty states responded (80 percent response rate). …

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