Magazine article Techniques

Needing a Second Chance

Magazine article Techniques

Needing a Second Chance

Article excerpt

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) can offer recipients a second chance for success, but just how good that second chance will be depends upon what the next version of the legislation contains. If the work requirements don't allow for sufficient career and technical training, achieving success may be much more difficult for those in need.

The March 2000 edition of Techniques magazine featured an article titled, "Back on Track," which highlighted a program that provides one year of career and technical training to welfare recipients. This program is part of a statewide system that has been funded through a contract between the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (ODHS) and the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education (ODCTE). The contract outlines partnership parameters that were initiated as a result of the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-- 193, PRWORA).

The major differences between the Work Opportunity Act and the previous act that governed federal welfare programs are: 1) time limits, 2) work requirements and 3) caps. Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) recipients can receive financial assistance only five years in their lifetime under the Work Opportunity Act. The TANF section of the Act replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) section. TANF is a privilege, while AFDC was considered an entitlement.

All TANF recipients who are able to work must participate in work activity (i.e., job search, work experience program, job-readiness class) for 30 hours per week. They can no longer stay at home and receive benefits unless they have a physical reason or an infant at home. The educational work activity allowed is one year of vocational education. If states are unable to reach their TANF recipients' participation minimum rates, they are penalized by reduction of their annual federal funds. If they are able to stay within federal caps (minimum allowable participation rates), they receive additional federal funds.

Training for Work

Ultimately, the state contract provides that funded programs in technology centers will provide life skills training, employability skills training, academic remediation, vocational training, job search services, and employment follow-up retention services. According to the ODCTE, the purpose of the TANF programs is to provide career and technical training that enables TANF recipients to receive the necessary skills training that leads to quality occupations (Welfare to Employment Vocational Training Program Planning Guide, 2001).

However, the previously mentioned requirements are considered by the ODCTE and the ODHS to be essential components for most TANF recipients to complete in order to be successful in their career and technical training and employment. Actual progression through these components is to be based on individual needs. No students are to be required to enter any component in which they were already proficient.

TANF recipients receive pressure from many well-meaning individuals worried about recipients' five-year lifetime limit. TANF caseworkers encouraged and sometimes required TANF recipients to adopt a "work first" approach to employment rather than training. Those caseworkers started seeing a revolving door of TANF recipients who found jobs but lost them because of poor preparatory skills (i.e., job-readiness skills, basic academic education, life skills) and/or inability to live on their low earnings. At the same time, employers who were desperate for employees frequently encouraged only job-readiness skills training, promising that they would provide the occupational skills once the TANF recipients were hired.

However, a study I conducted as TANF coordinator for the ODCTE proved that career and technical training paid in two ways. TANF recipients who received career and technical training earned a significantly higher wage at the first point of employment and sixth-month point of employment when compared to those who only received preparatory skills, and their rate of employment was significantly higher as compared to those who only received preparatory skills. …

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