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Senate Subcommittee Explores Welfare and Job Training Links

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee on Employment, Safety and Training held a May 16 hearing to examine the coordination between the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and the One-Stop Career Centers established by the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).

Approved by Congress in 1998, WIA consolidated employment and training programs, requiring states and localities to establish a centralized delivery system, a one-stop center, that would provide federally funded employment and training services.

Subcommittee Chair Paul Wellstone (D-MN) noted that Congress is in the process of reauthorizing the 1996 welfare law (P.L. 104-193) which includes TANF, and that WIA is scheduled to be reauthorized next year. He told the witnesses that their testimony is important to the renewal of both legislative proposals.

A majority of the witnesses agreed that Congress could do more to foster coordination between TANF and WIA. Some programs under WIA are required to provide services through the one-stop centers. Others, such as the TANF block grant, are left to the discretion of the state and local officials.

Dr. Sigurd Nilsen of the General Accounting Office testified that ties between TANF and WIA have increased since the spring of 2000, when WIA was first implemented. “Even though TANF was not made a mandatory partner under WIA, we see some early evidence that states and localities are increasing their efforts to bring services together to fit local needs,” he said.

Dr. Nilsen also described some of the barriers that states and localities are experiencing in bringing the two services together. “Infrastructure limitations, in terms of both facilities and antiquated computer systems, continue to challenge states and localities in their efforts to coordinate TANF-related programs with one-stop centers,” he said, and added, “The need to respond to the multiple, sometimes incompatible, federal requirements of the separate programs” is another barrier. Steve Savner of the Center for Social Law and Policy told the subcommittee that “there are significant differences in the accountability structures of the two systems.” He explained that WIA “uses a set of employment-related outcome measures while TANF relies principally on process measures in the form of participation rates to assess state conduct.” He recommended that “consideration should be given in TANF reauthorization to allowing states to rely in whole or in part on their performance with regard to these outcome measures rather than on participation rates for purposes of state accountability.”

Steve Rothschild of Twin Cities RISE! (TCR!) in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota, told the subcommittee that “before founding TCR! in 1994, I spent 24 years in the business world.” He said that he started the non-profit organization to serve unemployed and underemployed poor individuals with multiple barriers to employment. “Over 90% are people of color,” he said, adding, “This includes men, women on welfare, and recent immigrants.”

He had two policy recommendations for the subcommittee: “Focus new policy on preparing economically poor individuals for living wage jobs, not just any job, and provide ample funding for new and innovative approaches outside of current WIA/TANF programming.”

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