"HUD plays a vital role in helping families successfully make the transition from welfare to work. HUD people and programs support the education, training, employment, and business development opportunities needed to help low-income families become self-sufficient."
-- Andrew Cuomo
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 has brought sweeping changes to welfare programs and policies. The Act replaces a 65-year entitlement to assistance under Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) for eligible families with the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant to the States. Although the block grant allows considerable discretion at the State level, it is clearly intended to help move welfare recipients into work and off assistance. In addition to establishing a 5-year maximum lifetime limit on an individual's eligibility for assistance, it requires adult recipients to find work within 2 years of receiving assistance.
From Welfare to Work: Using HUD's Programs to Help Families in Transition, a report recently released by HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research, profiles 25 promising initiatives through which innovative providers are adapting existing HUD programs to help families make the transition from welfare to work. The report is designed as a resource for public housing agencies, community residents, local community development agencies, homeless service providers, assisted housing owners, and other local service providers. From Welfare to Work is organized in two parts. The first highlights common themes that recur in multiple programs. The second presents detailed profiles of individual programs.
Local sponsors of these HUD-supported programs include public housing agen-cies and nonprofit organizations as well as other community-based groups. For example, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City and the Richmond (Virginia) Housing and Redevelopment Authority have each established nonprofit subsidiaries to create employment opportunities for public housing residents. In New York City, a nonprofit housing and community development organization and an affiliated supportive services provider have launched an employment training program that is linked to supportive housing.
Many programs featured in the report rely on collaboration between two or more partner agencies. In addition to filling gaps in the service spectrum, creative partnerships can also help one or more partners meet funding requirements. For example, the Seattle Housing Authority has contracted with the local Private Industry Council to manage the Campus of Learners program at the HOPE VI Holly Park site. Other partners include the public school system, a refugee service agency, and a community college. Memoranda of Understanding have been established with a resident advocacy organization and three social services agencies.
Just as no single organization may have all the expertise to implement a particular strategy, no single funding source is likely to provide enough financial support to accomplish all of its goals. Most of the initiatives featured in From Welfare to Work have more than one source of support, including in-kind contributions and creative financing strategies. La Grave Place Neighborhood Networks Learning Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota, is funded by a nonprofit housing provider, the city of Grand Forks, local and regional banks, service organizations, and a variety of local businesses, all of which donate both funds and in-kind services.
Effective responses to welfare reform require program sponsors to anticipate potential impacts on both the sponsoring agency's self-sufficiency efforts and the lives of its clients. It is particularly important that sponsors' self-sufficiency efforts are coordinated with incentives offered through the TANF program. In Hartford, Connecticut, the housing authority's family reunification program offers job counseling, training, and job placement to absentee fathers who agree to assume responsibility for their families in public housing. The housing authority negotiated with the local TANF agency so that individuals who make an effort to acquire training or employment can be granted a 6-month extension on Connecticut's mandatory 21-month benefit limit. In addition, child support payments can be reduced to $5 per month for participating fathers who move home with their families.
A successful transition to employment requires that workers have not only tech-nical skills to perform the job's duties, but also the soft skills necessary to succeed in the workplace and organize their lives around work. Soft skills include punctuality, reliability, appropriate dress, effec-tive communication, and problemsolving skills. The 6-week seminar series on life skills provided by Phoenix Economic Initiatives addresses self-esteem, stress and time management, effective interactions with coworkers and supervisors, and conflict resolution.
With increased pressure to move TANF beneficiaries quickly into employment, program sponsors have pursued relationships with employers seeking job-ready workers. In some cases, the report notes, the sponsoring entity itself is a source of employment, but program staff are increasingly cultivating relationships with private firms willing to hire their participants. Most of these programs have assigned job development responsibilities to one or more staff members, who cultivate relationships with potential employers, identify job opportunities, screen program participants for referral, and serve as contacts for employers once a client is hired. These programs also provide followup support for both employees and employers to ensure that the placement succeeds.
For instance, Cleveland's Job Match program provides placement services for job-ready residents of the city's Supplemental Empowerment Zone. A job developer monitors job openings with a network of employers and matches participants with available positions. After placement, a job retention specialist is available to help participants with problems or concerns. The job developer maintains contact with employers to make sure they are satisfied with employees' performance.
The report concludes that, while welfare reform poses both challenges and opportunities, the providers of the HUD-sponsored programs profiled are responding with innovation, creativity, and commitment.
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