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SSRC Notes: Public assistance programs move away from Work First policy

Date Added to Library: 
Wednesday, May 11, 2016 - 20:46
Individual Author: 
Gorin, Rebecca
Reference Type: 
Published Date: 
Published Date (Date): 
Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Posted by Rebecca Gorin, Self-Sufficiency Research Clearinghouse Staff

Of the 1.8 million low-income parents that participate in education and training activities, most are single parents of children under five who also hold full-time jobs. Many pursuing additional education are on more than one type of public assistance program, often facing competing requirements to maintain benefits--some prioritizing work, others emphasizing training and education.

The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Program, established in 1996 by the Personal Responsibility and Work Responsibility Act, marked a dramatic shift away from cash assistance, requiring participants to work in order to keep their benefits. Recently, several companion programs have begun to support education and training as a prerequisite to work and economic stability.  

For example, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, allocates $300 million annually to states to operate SNAP E&T programs. While states are afforded considerable flexibility in their design, these programs help participants with job searches, provide work experience, basic-skills training, and job retention services. The child support system, originally an enforcement mechanism to recoup welfare payments, is also beginning to offer employment supports, through pilot projects that provide case management, employment services and fatherhood/parenting activities to non-custodial parents with high barriers to employment. These pilots, are a part of the National Child Support Noncustodial Parent Employment Demonstration Project (CSPED) and aim to improve financial and emotional stability for children by increasing the economic capacities of their parents. 

These policy shifts have occurred as the literature and research base has grown on the effectiveness and outcomes of work-first policies, as well as education and training supports for low-income individuals. This research has found that flexible programs, like SNAP E&T, are well-equipped to respond to economic downturns in comparison to work-first programs. Studies also indicate that training programs that adapt to changing labor market conditions and take into account employer needs can help participants build career pathways. Employment-based child support programs are also proving to be effective at not only increasing child support payments but increasing the presence of non-custodial parents in their children’s lives. 

Learn More about Work First Policy from the SSRC:

The SSRC Library contains numerous evaluation reports and stakeholder resources on these policy, research and practice development, including:

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