SPDP

  State Policy Documentation Project

 

 


State Policies Regarding TANF Work Activities and Requirements

States have broad flexibility under TANF to structure work-related activities. The two principal constraints imposed under TANF are participation rates and, to a lesser extent, the 24-month work requirement. In addition, unless the state opts out, there is a 2-month community service requirement. This section concerns the structure of work-related activities and programs for adult recipients(1) in each state. (Requirements imposed on applicants were covered in the SPDP Applications section. Education/training requirements for teens and teen parents were covered in the SPDP Reproductive Health And Teens section.) The term "work activity" is used throughout this section and it is intended to include all employment-related activities, including job search, education, training, etc., without regard to whether they are countable toward the TANF participation rates. The term "authorized" in regard to a particular activity means that participation in that activity will satisfy an individual's obligation to participate in employment-related activities under the state policy, again regardless of whether it is countable toward federal participation rates.

County Flexibility

Work-related activities and requirements are the most common areas in which counties have been given discretion by states to design and implement programs. In many instances, state policy prescribes a general framework for such activities, and authorizes counties to tailor their programs within the framework. For example, the state may mandate that non-exempt individuals participate in activities for no less than 20 hours per week, but authorize counties to require more than 20 hours. In such cases, this section describes the state requirements that all counties must include in their programs and indicates "county discretion" where applicable. 

Exemptions

Most states specify categories of adult recipients who will not be required to participate in TANF work activities. Separate and apart from exemption categories, states frequently identify "good cause" criteria that temporarily excuse a recipient from participation in an activity to which he or she has been assigned. Only exemption categories are described here; good cause criteria are covered in the SPDP Sanction Provisions section.

Most states (44) exempt from work requirements adult recipients who are caring for a young child, with about half (23) exempting adult recipients with children up to age one. Some 16 states set the age for this exemption at less than one year and five set it higher than one year. A majority of states (34) exempt disabled or temporarily incapacitated adult recipients from work requirements and 28 states exempt those who care for a disabled household member. About half of the states (27) exempt adult recipients of advanced age (typically set at 60 years). About half of the states (24) exempt adult recipients who are domestic violence victims. Some 19 states exempt those who lack child care, with13 of these states setting the age for this exemption at six or younger. Pregnant recipients are exempt in 20 states. In addition to these common exemption categories, a range of other ones are used in 23 states. These other categories include lack of transportation (10 states), adult recipients who are not parents (six states), and living in a remote area (five states).

Hourly Participation Requirements

Some 39 states require that single adult recipients receiving TANF participate in work activities for a set number of hours per week. Ten states determine hours of participation on an individual basis and two states allow localities to set the required hours of participation. In FY 2000, the majority of states with a fixed hourly participation requirement set the number of hours at the federal participation rate level of 30 hours per week (27 of the 39 states), with three of these states (MO, ND, SD) allowing adult recipients with children under age six to work 20 hours per week. Some six states (AL, AZ, CA, HI, TN, VT) set the hourly requirement higher, ranging from 32 to 40 hours per week, with Tennessee allowing adult recipients with low basic skills to work 20 hours per week and Vermont allowing adult recipients with children under age 13 to work 20 hours per week. Some five states (CT, ID, LA, NM, RI) set the hourly requirement lower, ranging from 20 to 29 hours per week.

Sequence of Work Activities

Many states have specified a sequence or sequences of activities in which all non-exempt recipients or subgroups of recipients must participate. For example, the sequence might be:

* job search for 8 weeks, followed by

* an assessment, followed by

* participation in any authorized activity for up to 18 months, followed by

* mandated participation in community service for up to 12 months.

Most states (24) do not require a fixed sequence of work activities for recipients subject to the work requirement. Some 20 states do require that nonexempt recipients participate in a fixed sequence of work activities and the remaining seven allow localities to decide this issue. Of the states with a fixed sequence, the most common initial steps were an initial assessment and/or orientation followed by job search (sometimes combined with other activities) for some number of weeks, ranging from three weeks to 12 months. After job search, recipients in these states are typically reassessed and assigned to other activities. Nearly half of the states with fixed sequences (IL, ME, MA, MO, NH, NJ, SC, TX, WA) had more than one fixed sequence, most commonly having a second, different sequence for recipients deemed to be less job ready or recipients with younger children. The sequence for those less job ready is typically more individualized and includes a wider range of up-front services, such as basic education, training, and barrier resolution.

Job Search

In all states job search is an authorized work activity and is countable toward meeting work participation rates. Some 28 states require that all recipients or some groups of recipients participate in job search; 22 states do not have such requirements. About half of the states with a job search requirement limit it to recipients deemed to be job ready, the other states require all recipients to conduct job search. Some 19 states limit job search to six or eight weeks in a 12-month period; three states have limits of 12 weeks or more; and, 29 states have no limit on how much job search can be required in a 12-month period. (Note that job search requirements for applicants are not covered here but included in the Applicants section of SPDP.)

Subsidized Employment

Some 42 states authorize subsidized employment as a work activity; eight others do not authorize it and one state allows localities discretion to authorize it. Almost all of the states authorizing it allowed placements with public, private nonprofit, and private for profit employers. About half (22) of the states authorizing subsidized employment set the minimum hourly rate at $5.15; five set the minimum wage rate between $5.15 and $5.80; and, six set the wage rate at $6 an hour or higher. Some 21 states set limits on the length of subsidized job placements, ranging from four weeks to 24 months.

Vocational Educational Training

Almost all states (47) authorize vocational educational training as a work activity, with two states not authorizing it(2) and two states allowing localities to decide the issue. Some six states place no limit on the amount of time in vocational educational training; 12 states allow from 18 to 36 months; and 26 allow 12 months or less. In 17 states, participation in vocational educational training alone satisfies the work requirement for at least the first 12 months. Vocational educational training must be combined with other activities if necessary to meet hourly participation requirements in 22 states and six states always require recipients to combine it with other activities.

Adult Basic Education/English as a Second Language

Almost all states (47) authorize adult basic education and English as a Second Language (ESL) as work activities, with three states allowing localities to decide the issue, and one state not authorizing it. Some 18 states set criteria for referral that participants in these activities must meet, such as lack of a high school diploma or GED, low basic skills, or limited English proficiency. Some 21 states require that recipients combine adult education or ESL with other activities if needed to meet the general hourly participation requirement while eight states allow recipients to meet the work requirement through adult education or ESL alone. Some 13 states require that recipients in adult education or ESL always combine these activities with other work activities, typically ones that count toward the first 20 hours of meeting federal participation rates. Most states (35) do not set a time limit on participation in adult education or ESL; seven states set limits ranging from 18 to 36 months; and, four states set limits of 12 months or less.

Education Related to Employment

Some 44 states authorize education directly related to employment as a work activity, five do not authorize it, and two leave the issue to local discretion. Education must be combined with other activities in 11 states; 23 other states require recipients to combine it with other activities in some cases (typically if needed to meet hourly participation requirements); and, five states do not require other activities. Most states do not appear to set a time limit on participation in this activity. Some 12 states do limit participation, with seven having limits ranging from 18 to 36 months, and four other states limiting participation in this activity to 12 months or less.

On-the-Job Training

Most states (45) authorize on-the-job training as a work activity, two leave the decision to local discretion, and four states do not allow it. About half of the states (27) require in some cases that training be combined with participation in other work activities, typically when necessary to meet the hourly participation requirement. The majority of states (31) do not place a limit on how long someone may participate in on-the-job training; six months is the most common limit among the 15 states that set one.

Postsecondary Education

This section covers two or four year degree programs at postsecondary institutions. Shorter-term job training at post secondary institutions is under either vocational educational training or job skills training, above, depending upon which label the state uses.

In nearly half the states (21), participation in postsecondary degree programs can meet the state work requirement for longer than the 12 months countable toward TANF participation rate requirements. Of the 21 states, nine allow participation in postsecondary education alone to meet the state work requirement: Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine,(3) Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Wyoming. Twelve states allow participants to meet the state work requirement for more than 12 months by combining postsecondary degree programs with some work: Arkansas, California, Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

In thirteen more states, postsecondary education can meet the work requirement for up to 12 months. Four of the thirteen states–Alaska, Florida, Nevada and Pennsylvania–allow postsecondary degree programs as a stand-alone activity. In the other nine states–Arizona, District of Columbia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia–postsecondary degree programs in combination with some work can meet the state work requirement for up to 12 months.

In another thirteen states, participation in a postsecondary degree program does not meet the state work requirement. Most of these states do allow up to 12 months of vocational educational training, which, depending on the state’s definition, may include community college training programs. In several of the states, participants can receive support services for participation in degree programs, but only if they first meet the state’s hourly work requirement. Four more states–Colorado, Montana, New York and Ohio–leave it to counties to decide whether to allow participation in postsecondary degree programs to meet the work requirement.

Postemployment Benefits and Services

Some states provide services specifically designed to help those who leave cash assistance for employment to remain employed and/or to find another job if they do not stay in the first job. This section covers these benefits and services other than Transitional Medicaid (see the SPDP Medicaid section) and transitional child care (see the SPDP Child Care section). In addition, some states have recently begun to use their flexibility under TANF to serve needy families outside of the TANF cash assistance program, regardless of whether those families have ever received TANF cash assistance. While states were not asked specifically in the survey about these types of initiatives, they are included here where information was available.

A majority of states (34) provide case management services to adult recipients who leave cash assistance. Some 16 states provide support for education and training, which can include contracting for services and tuition assistance to individuals. A majority of states (32) provide a range of other post-TANF services and benefits including employment or retention bonuses, transportation allowances, work expense allowances, employment services, and other support services. A growing number of states (DC, FL, MI, NY, OH, WA) are creating innovative initiatives designed to serve working, low income families generally, and not just those who have received TANF. A wide range of benefits and services are included in these initiatives, including education and training services, tuition assistance, individual training accounts, transportation aid, case management, employment services, and short-term or one-time cash payments for work-related expenses or emergency needs.

Job Skills Training

Most states (47) authorize job skills training as a work activity. About half (23) require that training be combined with other activities in some cases, typically if needed to meet the hourly work participation requirement. There is no limit on how long someone may participate in job skills training in about half of the states (26); eight states have limits ranging from 18 to 36 months; and, six states limit it to 12 months or less.

Community Service

Unpaid community service is an authorized activity in 34 states and not authorized in 15.(4) One state leaves the decision to local discretion. The majority of states authorizing it allow community service placements in the public sector (30) and in the nonprofit sector (30); nine of the states allow placements with private, for-profit entities. Some nine states calculate hours based on a minimum hourly wage rate of $5.15, two states set the wage rate between $5.25 and $5.70, and one sets it at $6.50. Nine states (AL, CA, HI, MA, MI, MT, SD, WA, WY) mandate community service for certain groups of individuals, most commonly recipients who have not found a job after a certain period of job search.

Work Experience

Unpaid work experience is an authorized activity in 44 states and not authorized in five states.(5) Two states leave the decision to local discretion. Most states allow work experience placements in the public sector (45) and in the nonprofit sector (46); about half of the states (24) allow placements with private, for-profit entities. Some 23 states calculate hours based on a minimum hourly wage rate of $5.15, six states have wage rates ranging from $5.25 to $5.75, and one state sets it at $6.50. Nine states (AL, DE, HI, IL, TX, UT, VT, VA, WY) mandate work experience for certain groups of individuals, most commonly two-parent families or recipients who have not found a job after a certain period of job search.

Job Readiness

Almost all states (48) authorize job readiness as an activity, with one state not authorizing it, and two leaving it to local discretion. Some six states (AL, ME, MA, MS, SC, TX) mandate job readiness for some groups of individuals. States typically define job readiness activities to include classroom training on completing job applications, writing resumes, interviewing skills, life skills, career goal setting, and workplace expectations. Some states use this component to address broader issues such as alcohol and drug abuse assessment and treatment (IN, KS, ME, ND). (Note that job search requirements for applicants are not covered here but included in the Applicants section of SPDP.)

1. Adult recipients when used in this section refers also to minors who are heads of households and therefore subject to federal TANF work requirements. Special education and training requirements that apply only to teens and teen parents are covered in the SPDP Reproductive Health and Teens section.

2. In two of these states, Delaware and Massachusetts, postsecondary education and job skills training are authorized activities.

3. Maine allows access to postsecondary education and training through a separate state program funded with state maintenance of effort (MOE) funds. See Section II for a description of this program.

4. Note that 16 states authorize work experience but not community service: DE, IL, IN, IA, LA, MO, NE, OK, OR, RI, SC, TN, TX, UT, VT, and VA.

5. Note that five states have community service programs, but not work experience programs: CT, MA, PA, SD, and WI.


 

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This page last updated September 02, 2023

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