Revised September 7, 1999

Washington State's
Community Jobs Initiative

by Clifford M. Johnson and Lana Kim

In the fall of 1997, the state of Washington launched an innovative effort to create publicly-funded transitional jobs for hard-to-employ welfare recipients. Community Jobs provides participants with valuable work experience and skills training that lead to placement and retention in unsubsidized jobs. At the same time, participants perform work that benefits their communities. The program began operating as a pilot project in June 1998 in five sites covering four different regions of the state. The state has since expanded the program to serve all regions of the state. Current plans call for the program to provide transitional jobs for more than 3,300 welfare parents by June 2001.

Community Jobs (CJ) illustrates how a state strongly committed to a "work first" philosophy of welfare reform can provide meaningful work opportunities to welfare recipients facing major barriers to employment through the use of wage-paying, transitional jobs. The program is unique among current state and local job creation efforts because the state has developed a comprehensive model — one that emphasizes skill development and job retention as well as work experience and job placement — and because the state is moving to implement the program on a large scale in all regions of the state. This ambitious CJ design is implemented through extensive partnerships among four state agencies, 17 CJ contractors, and dozens of other non-profit and public agencies that participate in local CJ consortia.

This paper provides a brief summary of Community Jobs as a new and promising model for other states interested in work-based welfare reform strategies for the hard-to-employ. Further information can be obtained from the Center or by contacting the following state agencies:

Department of Community, Trade, and Economic Development (CTED)
Contact: Paul Knox, WorkFirst Managing Director, (360) 586-8973,

paulk@cted.wa.gov.

Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS)
Contact: Sandy Jsames,
Program Manager, (360) 413-3239,
jsamessm@dshs.wa.gov
.

 

Program Design

Community Jobs was developed by key state agencies involved in Washington's welfare reform efforts at the request of Governor Gary Locke. It was designed with three goals in mind: 1) to create transitional work opportunities for hard-to-employ welfare recipients who were unsuccessful in their search for an unsubsidized job; 2) to minimize the additional costs to the state of creating these temporary community jobs for welfare recipients; and 3) to emphasize skill development while meeting federal work participation rates under TANF. The program's proponents, including Representative Frank Chopp (former minority leader and current co-speaker of the state House of Representatives), argued persuasively that the state's WorkFirst program would not succeed unless community jobs were available to aid recipients who were unsuccessful in an initial period of job search.

Community Jobs is designed as an integral part of the state's broader "WorkFirst" program that seeks to help recipients move as quickly as possible into the regular labor market. The state recently redesigned Community Jobs to simplify eligibility rules, facilitate referral from local welfare offices, and streamline administrative procedures. Key elements of the redesigned program include:

Eligibility and referrals. While there are no strict eligibility criteria for Community Jobs, the expectation is that the program will serve those who have not been able to obtain unsubsidized employment despite a relatively intensive job search. CJ participants typically have little or no recent work experience and few job-related skills. Welfare recipients must be referred to the program by their WorkFirst case manager in order to participate. Most participants are referred to Community Jobs after a 12-week period of job search, although WorkFirst case managers can refer clients who have been temporarily deferred from job search or who are in a sanctioned status when appropriate.

Terms of employment. Community Jobs participants are employed for at least 20 hours per week at the state minimum wage (currently $5.70 per hour and rising to $6.50 per hour on January 1, 2000). Earnings are based on actual hours worked and enable participants to qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). CJ contractors assist participants in filing for advanced payment of the EITC so that a portion of this annual tax credit is added to participants' regular paychecks. CJ participants remain in their community job for up to nine months, subject to a review of the continuing appropriateness of participation by DSHS every 90 days. A CJ participant can be reassigned to a different job or work site during this nine-month period if necessary. Reassignment is not uncommon and occurs either because problems arise at the initial work site or because the participant's skills can be enhanced by a move to another position.

Individual development plans and job readiness training. A CJ case manager prepares an individual development plan (IDP) for each participant. The IDP describes the participant's personal and occupational goals, and it specifies training and other skill development activities to be undertaken in pursuit of those goals. The IDP also includes a detailed description of the participant's community job, a work schedule for that position, and a list of responsibilities and obligations to be assumed by the participant, work site provider, and the program. CJ contractors typically provide at least one week of job readiness training for participants prior to their placement at a work site. In some cases, job readiness activities continue for several weeks.

Vocational training and education. Skill development has become an increasingly important part of Community Jobs. WorkFirst's new theme for skill development calls for "bundling" services together to include vocational/occupation training and adult education along with the "soft" skills they are learning on the job (e.g., punctuality, professionalism). Most contractors have responded to this heightened emphasis on skills development by enrolling participants in community college courses, particularly those that include GED preparation as well as adult basic education, English-as-a-second language classes, and training in computer technology, first aid, and food handling. Many work site supervisors also allow CJ participants to attend training sessions sponsored by that work site.

Treatment of CJ earnings within TANF. In most respects, CJ earnings are treated like all other earned income when the state calculates participants eligibility and benefit levels under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The state disregards 50 percent of all CJ earnings, essentially reducing participants' TANF grants by $1 for every $2 in earnings. As a result, most CJ participants also receive a supplemental TANF grant while in the program to help them meet their families' basic needs.

Participant rights and employee benefits. Participants are paid by the CJ contractor and considered to be its employees. Participants are awarded 20 hours of leave at the start of their community job with the expectation that they will encounter some disruptions in their work schedules during their first weeks of employment. Subsequently, participants receive the same sick and annual leave benefits offered to the contractor's regular employees (or a minimum of four hours per month of leave in each category). CJ contractors attempt to work with participants to ensure that any missed hours of work are made up during the same or subsequent pay period. Repeated failures to work required hours can lead to removal of the participant from the CJ program and the initiation of a sanction process under TANF by the WorkFirst case manager.

Some of the program elements outlined above are the result of a thorough redesign of Community Jobs approved at the end of 1998. During the program's initial phase, all CJ participants worked exactly 20 hours per week in exchange for a monthly salary that was equal to the state's maximum three-person TANF benefit. Welfare recipients were eligible to participate in the program only if their TANF grant was at least as large as this monthly salary. In addition, these CJ earnings were treated differently than other earned income. Rather than receiving the standard 50 percent earnings disregard within TANF, only 20 percent of CJ earnings were disregarded for purposes of calculating TANF eligibility and benefit levels.

These provisions were changed in large part because they were administratively cumbersome and because they prevented the program from replicating the experiences and work incentives provided in unsubsidized jobs. For example, the shift from a monthly salary to an hourly wage has given CJ contractors more flexibility to offer additional hours of work when appropriate and to reduce participants' paychecks when they miss hours of work. The larger earnings disregard within TANF also increased the financial rewards for participants' work effort and eliminated the need for DSHS case managers to learn and apply different rules for CJ earnings. The redesign effort has been very successful in boosting referrals to Community Jobs, easing bureaucratic headaches, and motivating participants to complete the program.

 

Administrative Structure

State administration of Community Jobs is a collaboration of four state agencies: the Departments of Community, Trade, and Economic Development (CTED); Social and Health Services (DSHS); Employment Security (ES); and the Board of Community and Technical Colleges (CTC). These four agencies work with CJ contractors selected by CTED to administer the program at the local level. CTED and DSHS have worked together to develop the programmatic structure and operational procedures for Community Jobs. ES and CTC are involved in job search, skills development, and job placement activities. Solid working relationships between all four state agencies are essential for effective implementation of the program.

Agency relationships

After the 1997-1999 biennial budget passed with a provision allowing state agencies to establish wage subsidy programs for TANF recipients, Governor Locke directed his welfare reform "subcabinet" (composed of the directors of several state agencies as well as senior staff in the Governor's office) to develop the first phase of Community Jobs and to ensure its effective integration with the broader WorkFirst program. Following initial planning efforts by the subcabinet, the Governor decided that Community Jobs should be administered by CTED. This decision reflected many considerations, including a recognition that DSHS already had assumed responsibility for many challenges associated with the implementation of new TANF and WorkFirst programs and that CTED had a strong track record working with local communities on issues related to community and economic development.

As the lead agency administering Community Jobs, CTED is responsible for overall management of the program at the state level. It oversees the implementation efforts of local CJ contractors, monitoring their progress and authorizing performance-based payments in accordance with contracts negotiated with each agency. CTED also provides ongoing support and technical assistance to contractors, sponsoring numerous workshops and conferences to strengthen their capacity and respond to their questions or concerns. The program's redesign last year reflected CTED's commitment to continuous improvement as Community Jobs matures and grows.

Under this structure, CTED works closely with DSHS to ensure effective coordination with other components of the WorkFirst program. DSHS involvement has been particularly important in addressing issues related to eligibility, referral, tracking of participant progress, and treatment of income and work-related expenses within TANF. Complex policies involving the federal food stamp program and child support enforcement efforts also have required DSHS attention.

Employment Security, the state's largest employment agency, has worked with CJ contractors and DSHS since the program's inception to place CJ participants into unsubsidized employment. As a result of recent WorkFirst changes, ES has assumed another role in the program. When welfare recipients approach the end of a 12-week job search supervised by ES and still are unable to find unsubsidized employment, ES now can begin working with DSHS and local CJ contractors to enroll them in Community Jobs.

Finally, community and technical colleges are collaborating with CTED and CJ contractors to strengthen the skills development components of Community Jobs. CTC offers a curriculum specifically designed to meet participants' and employers' needs and to bolster participants' opportunities for unsubsidized employment opportunities following program completion.

Contractor selection

Early in the CJ planning process, CTED decided that it wanted to work with community-based non-profit organizations directly in multiple sites throughout the state. CTED completed the entire selection process in approximately six months. It disseminated a memorandum soliciting "letters of interest" from agencies willing to consider serving as Phase I contractors for Community Jobs. An RFP was sent to each interested organization, and seventeen agencies subsequently responded to the RFP. A review process narrowed the pool to nine agencies, all of whom were then interviewed in order to determine the final decisions. In the end, CTED negotiated contracts with five diverse agencies, including a local Private Industry Council (PIC), a community action program, and three other non-profit agencies with established track records in the employment field.

The Phase I contractors were located in five communities (Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Spokane, and Aberdeen) in four different DSHS regions across the state. These varied settings offered opportunities to test the CJ approach in urban as well as rural or tribal settings and in tight regional labor markets as well as depressed areas.

For example, Community Jobs has proven to be an important tool for some Indian tribes in Washington state. Because they are typically isolated economically and geographically, many tribes have high proportions of members who receive welfare payments and who face multiple barriers to employment. Community Jobs has helped tribes begin to respond to these challenges.

In Phase II of Community Jobs, CTED expanded the program statewide to reach communities outside the geographic areas covered by the initial CJ contractors. CTED focused attention on local partnerships and referral mechanisms in the pre-application process for this second phase of the program. Reflecting a strong belief that partnerships were essential to the success of WorkFirst programs, CTED held bidder workshops to provide potential applicants with suggestions for possible consortium models. The RFP also highlighted the importance of developing consortia with local Private Industry Councils (PICs) who administer federal Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) programs. CTED sought to increase the rate of CJ referrals by asking prospective contractors to consult with their local DSHS offices and determine how many local TANF recipients might be served through Community Jobs.

Contractor roles and responsibilities

Each CJ contractor manages the program in its area, establishing work sites and ensuring that participants receive the intensive supervision, training, and support services they need to prepare for unsubsidized employment. Contractors assemble and coordinate a team of local and regional partners that includes local DSHS and Employment Security offices. They are also expected to solicit the involvement of a wide range of community-based organizations that can provide work sites and supervise CJ participants. All financial management for the program are handled by the contractors under the terms of their contracts with CTED. Contractors also establish mechanisms necessary for payroll administration, including review and submission of time sheets for CJ participants by work sites.

CJ contractors are responsible for the preparation and implementation of individual development plans (IDPs). Work site agreements further clarify the roles and responsibilities of work site providers and CJ contractors in each site. Contractors support participants in their job search efforts and can assist Employment Security with job placement. All but one of the current CJ contractors also have DSHS and ES contracts for job retention as well, an arrangement designed to allow former CJ participants to receive retention services from the same agency that helped them move into unsubsidized employment through Community Jobs.

 

Results to Date

Over 600 participants were enrolled in Community Jobs as of July 1999. The ultimate goal of Community Jobs is give participants the skills and work experience they need to find unsubsidized employment. Because of difficulties encountered by CTED in implementing a comprehensive management information system (MIS) during the first year of Community Jobs, it remains too early to tell the extent to which the program has succeeded in moving participants into unsubsidized jobs. Early signs of progress, however, are encouraging. An analysis by Annette Case of the Fremont Public Association, a non-profit agency located in Seattle, based on program data provided by the initial CJ contractors found that 73 participants had completed the program as of April 1999 and slightly more than half of these graduates had been placed directly in unsubsidized jobs. This initial placement rate is consistent with previous research on other transitional jobs programs, and it reflects significant accomplishments in the context of an initiative serving welfare recipients with multiple barriers to employment.

Anecdotal reports suggest that CJ participants have been placed in a wide variety of jobs ranging from positions in schools and child care centers to employment as computer-assisted drafting (CAD) operators. Most individuals are being placed in clerical positions, including some in state agencies such as CTED. CJ graduates placed in unsubsidized jobs typically earn more than the state minimum wage; the highest-paying job to date has been in the construction trades with a salary of $47,000 annually.

 

Next steps

With a newly-redesigned program now expanding to serve all regions of the state, Community Jobs faces many challenges in the months ahead. In addition to the ongoing task of assessing and improving program quality, three challenges confronting CTED, its state agency partners, and its CJ contractors seem particularly noteworthy: data collection and evaluation; interagency coordination; and support for new CJ contractors in expansion sites.

CTED has long been aware of the importance of a strong MIS to monitor program outcomes, contractor performance, and participant characteristics. Unfortunately, the initial MIS developed by CTED was difficult to use and not fully implemented by contractors during the program's first phase. CTED has now overhauled its MIS. The new system will enable CTED and its contractors to share participant information with DSHS and ES and to track participants' progress over time.

Interagency coordination, particularly in areas related to job placement and job retention, also require further effort and attention. Some of the difficulty in these areas stems from the fact that ES rather than CTED has responsibility at the state level for job placement services, and state collective bargaining agreements do not permit the state to delegate or contract out these services to other entities. These constraints have created the unusual situation in which the success of Community Jobs will be measured largely in terms of placements in unsubsidized employment but neither CTED nor its contractors can assume direct control over this function. Recent signs of increased collaboration between CJ contractors, CTED, DSHS, and ES on both job placement and job retention services suggest that the state may be able to overcome these obstacles with sustained effort. For example, CTED and ES have jointly decided that CJ participants should begin job search during their seventh month in the program, a shift that should result in increased job placement rates prior to the end of their nine-month transitional jobs.

Finally, the selection of 12 new contractors for the expansion phase of Community Jobs is likely to pose new challenges for CTED. These new contractors must become fully acquainted with CJ program requirements, hire staff, and solidify their partnerships with state and local agencies in their region. The experience of contractors in the program's first phase suggests that these new contractors will encounter a substantial "learning curve" and numerous start-up issues. CTED is well positioned to support the expansion effort and assist new contracts, particularly given the lessons it learned during the program's initial phase. At the same time, however, the CJ expansion will no doubt place new strains upon CTED's limited resources for support and technical assistance to its contractors.