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Farm Bill Funding for Work Programs Won’t Buy Much

April 16, 2018 at 5:30 PM

Under the work requirement provisions in House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway’s farm bill, we estimate that states will need to provide employment assistance such as structured job search assistance, training, or volunteer work opportunities to 3 million people.  But the bill’s $1 billion per year in funding for work programs amounts to just $30 per person per month. That would barely buy even the most basic services from the Department of Labor-funded local American Job Centers, which provide job search assistance and limited funding for training programs for those who need such assistance to find work (see table).  States could provide additional money but given their history of spending few state funds on work programs, they are unlikely to add enough money to make a difference, especially since they are under no obligation to do so.

The real costs to provide what Chairman Conaway proposes for employment assistance will be much higher because the American Job Centers don’t assess whether people are required to participate, nor do they track people’s hourly participation or impose penalties if they don’t comply.  They also aren’t required to provide a work or training slot for every person who needs one or to ensure that every person participates for at least 20 hours per week.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) work programs, which more closely resemble the mandatory work programs outlined in Chairman Conaway’s farm bill, cost $414 per person per month in the median state.  That’s almost 15 times what the Conaway farm bill provides. At a cost of $414 per month, $1 billion could only fund about 200,000 work slots — a fraction of what would be needed.

Conaway Farm Bill Wouldn’t Cover Average Cost of Typical Employment-Assistance Activities
Service Description Average Per-Person Cost Sufficient Farm Bill Funding to Cover?
Resource Room visit Use of computers, phones, copiers or materials in job center (no staff assistance) $16 Yes
Structured assessment Self-administered employment assessment (no staff assistance) $13 Yes
Job club Group job search assistance (staff-led; per session) $38 No
Workshop Structured group session on a specific job such as writing a resume (staff-led; per session) $54 No
Counselor meeting One-on-one appointment; usually lasts an hour $143 No
Skills training Individual Training Account (average length of 12.2 weeks) $3,490 No

Note:  Costs were collected in 2011 or 2012 and have not been adjusted for inflation.

Sources:  Anna Mastri and AnnaMaria McCutcheon, “Costs of Services Provided by the WIA Adult and Dislocated Worker Programs,” Mathematica Policy Research, November 2015; Sheena McConnell et al., “Providing Public Workforce Services to Job Seekers:  15-month Impact Findings in the WIA Adult and Dislocated Worker Program,” Mathematica Policy Research, May 2016.


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