Report Offers Resources for Connecting TANF Recipients and Other Low-Income Families to Jobs

To move out of poverty, recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) assistance and other low-income families need access to growing, in-demand jobs with family-sustaining wages. These jobs often require education and training that low-income people may lack. In order to help their customers, TANF agencies need to know which jobs in their area are increasing and which types of education and training programs will help low-income people access good jobs in fields with growing demand. 

A recent report, “Resources for Connecting TANF Recipients and Other Low-Income Families to Good Jobs” created by Mathematica Policy Research, compiles useful resources to help TANF agencies and others so that they can provide higher-quality employment services. The report includes client assessments and technical assistance resources regarding labor market information, career pathways/sector strategies, and career exploration. The guide also recommends research studies and data sets that, with proper analysis, can help administrators and policymakers make informed decisions about programs. These resources can be useful for a variety of audiences, including state administrators and policymakers, frontline agency staff, researchers, and TANF partners (e.g., community-based organizations, community colleges).

Several CLASP studies are included in the resource guide. “Beyond Basic Skills: State Strategies to Connect Low-Skilled Students to an Employer-Valued Postsecondary Education” (CLASP, 2011) focuses on the necessity of postsecondary education for those with low basic skills and describes promising strategies for improving basic skills delivery, including contextualization of adult education with occupational training and more comprehensive student support services. Another 2011 CLASP paper, “Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due: Creating a Competency-Based Qualifications Framework for Postsecondary Education and Training,” advocates for change in credentialing models by placing less value on time spent in classrooms (as in traditional credit-hour models) and focusing more on the credit-worthy occupational education and training in which many low-income adults participate. 

One strategy that some TANF agencies have used to strengthen their employment services is to partner with workforce agencies. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA) requires TANF agencies to be partners in the local workforce development system, unless governors opt out.  This presents an opportunity to increase TANF programs' emphasis on providing participants with training opportunities that are valued by employers. With implementation now underway in states and local areas, two older CLASP studies listed in the report offer insights regarding past coordination between TANF and the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998 that may be helpful. These papers, ”A Means to an End: Integration of Welfare and Workforce Development Systems” (CLASP, 2003) and “Integrating TANF and WIA Into a Single Workforce System: An Analysis of Legal Issues (CLASP, 2004), provide a look-back at challenges and opportunities for TANF and WIA agencies working in the early 2000s, which can inform ongoing efforts to improve coordination between TANF and WIOA programs. 

CLASP will continue TANF/WIOA coordination research and advocacy in 2016, as we seek to help improve the opportunities for low-income people to earn credentials valued in the labor market and obtain good jobs with family-sustaining wages.