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Employment Focused Approach to Welfare Reform


Published: April 16, 1997



Dear Colleague:

Please find enclosed a "Work First Guide--How to Implement an Employment Focused Approach to Welfare Reform," developed by the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC) under the JOBS Evaluation Contract with the Departments of Health and Human Services and Education. Although the guide is directed to welfare agencies providing employment-related services to custodial parents receiving public assistance, much of the information provided in the guide may also be useful to child support agencies given the new work requirements under welfare reform.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), Section 365, added work requirements for noncustodial parents owing past due child support for a child receiving assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. In these cases, individuals who are required to pay support, but unable to pay and not incapacitated, will be required to participate in work activities as defined in Section 407(d) of PRWORA, the new Mandatory Work Requirements. These work activities are broadly defined to include private and public sector employment, community service, job search activities, vocational training and employment related services.

Even before welfare reform, many states have been providing employment and training services for noncustodial parents with past-due child support. Particularly important are the experiences of the Parents' Fair Share demonstration sites authorized under the Family Support Act. Some of the sites used work first approaches. These demos are designed to test whether providing employment and training services to unemployed noncustodial parents of children receiving AFDC could increase their employment and earnings and thus, improve their ability to support as well as become more involved with their children. Preliminary findings show that work and training requirements can effectively be used by states to differentiate noncustodial parents, who have income but have not been paying child support, from those who cannot afford to pay and need further employment assistance. In addition, preliminary impact results on the effect of these programs on increasing employment and earnings, child support collections and noncustodial parental involvement with their children are expected from MDRC by January 1998.

One of the most successful strategies undertaken by states to effectively help welfare recipients find and keep jobs has beencalled "work first." Work first programs aim to move participants into unsubsidized employment as quickly as possible through job search and short-term education, training or work experience activities.

The "Work First" guide cites numerous examples from state and county programs across the country that have implemented various aspects of work first and presents key aspects of effective work first approaches. Given that welfare families face time limited assistance under welfare reform, it is crucial that both parents share the financial responsibility of supporting their child(ren). Effective employment-related program approaches are essential to helping both custodial and noncustodial parents help their families achieve self-sufficiency.

We hope that you find the approaches identified in the guide useful for either referring noncustodial parents to effective work and training program strategies or in helping you design more effective strategies.


Anne Donovan

Acting Deputy Director

Office of Child Support Enforcement


cc: ACF HUB Directors and Regional Administrators

CSE Regional Program Managers

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