What if?

Feb 16, 2011

What if, instead of giving people who want to work a little bit of money, and making them jump through all sorts of hoops to prove that they're really looking for work, you just gave them a job? What if you gave employers who want to expand, but don't have the cash flow to justify a new hire, a subsidy to let them bring on new employees? What if you encouraged them to give workers they might not otherwise hire - someone who didn't go to college, or someone who once went to jail -- a chance to prove they could do the job?

Last year, 39 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and eight Tribal TANF programs received approval to use $1.3 billion from the TANF Emergency Fund to do just that. These programs placed more than 260,000 low-income parents and youth in paid jobs during a time of high unemployment. In a new report, CLASP and CBPP examine the subsidized jobs programs that were created or expanded under the Emergency Fund, and the lessons learned.

In a short period of time, programs funded by the TANF Emergency Fund placed a substantial number of people in subsidized jobs. These programs proved that that unemployed individuals - receiving TANF or not - will seize the opportunity to work when provided with a paying job. Moreover, the programs demonstrated the feasibility of creating cost-effective, publicly funded jobs in the private and public sectors on a large scale during a downturn.

While funding from the Emergency Fund expired on September 30, 2010, the need for jobs remains. Although most states were unable to sustain their subsidized employment programs at their previous levels after the fund expired, many states are attempting to maintain scaled-down versions of them. Federal policymakers should also build on the lessons of the TANF Emergency Fund as they reauthorize both TANF and workforce investment act programs.

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