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TANF – Refugee Program Partnerships

Published: May 20, 2014

In some states and communities throughout the country, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs, ORR-funded refugee programs, and community-based refugee service providers are collaborating to most effectively help refugees attain employment and self-sufficiency. As U.S.-citizens-in-waiting, refugees qualify for mainstream federal public benefit programs, including TANF. (Refugees adjust their status to lawful permanent residents within a year of arrival and are eligible for citizenship after five years.)

Bridges for Refugees and Asylees, an ORR technical assistance initiative supported by ICF International, works with partners in both the refugee program and TANF communities to identify promising models for partnership. This growing array of Bridges case studies, recorded webinars, and other resources are designed to showcase the ways in which the TANF and refugee networks are working together.

Case Studies of Promising Practices

Illinois Special Units Office Provides Culturally Competent and Linguistically Appropriate TANF Services for Refugee Participants. The State of Illinois has a Special Units Office to support TANF participants that would especially benefit from case management that reflects special needs. The Special Units staff collaborates with the Chicago Refugee Employment Workgroup to place refugees into optimal work situations.

Moving Refugees Towards Self-Sufficiency Pathways in Erie County, New York: Communication, Collaboration, and a Focus on Cultural Knowledge. Erie County Social Services ensures a coordinated and integrated social service delivery approach between the County’s TANF program and refugee partner organizations. Services provided to refugees in the greater Buffalo area focus on cultural strengths and are rooted in consistent and ongoing communication among collaborative partners. This cultural knowledge approach provides refugees with numerous paths to gain English language skills, education and training, and work experience.

Refugee Organizations Provide Collective Voice for Refugees in Lansing, Michigan. In Lansing, Michigan, refugee-focused organizations are working with a wide range of community-based programs to ensure that refugees receive quality services and are integrated into the community. By initiating dialogue with workforce development organizations, law enforcement, schools, and medical providers, and others, these organizations are ensuring that refugees have a voice.

Utah Leverages TANF and Refugee Services Partnership to Provide Refugees with Integrated Employment and Education Support. The State of Utah supports refugees through a highly collaborative service model between the Department of Workforce Services/TANF and the Refugee Services Office. This integrated services approach provides refugees more streamlined case management as well as more rapid and effective connections to vital community partners.

Washington State Implements Pilots to Promote Self-Sufficiency Among Refugees with Low English Proficiency. In Washington State, two pilot projects aim to connect refugees with limited English proficiency (LEP) with workforce development opportunities within WorkFirst, Washington’s TANF program. Specifically, the two pilots: (1) Provide more subsidized employment opportunities for LEP parents within the WorkFirst program; and (2) Launch skills training pilots within WorkFirst that target participants with lower levels of English proficiency.

Work Progression for Refugees Tied to English Literacy Levels in Colorado. The Colorado Refugee Services Program (CRSP) in the Colorado Department of Human Services has created an innovative program that tailors refugees’ workforce training to their English Language proficiency level. It is part of their appropriation from the state legislature and funded from the Colorado TANF block grant. The state TANF program, Colorado Works, has collaborated with CRSP to train front-line staff on working effectively with refugees in support of strong employment outcomes.

Webinars on TANF and ORR-Assisted Populations

Providing Coordinated Human Services to Refugees and Immigrants through Specialized Service Units (September 19, 2013). This Webinar focused on specialized service units which are collaborations between ORR and refugee and immigrant serving programs and TANF programs designed to improve placements and services for refugees. Tom Medina from the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, Economic Services Administration, Office of Refugee and Immigrant Services presented on Washington’s service delivery model and partner agencies, highlighting available services to low-income refugees and immigrants including TANF, English as a Second Language, job training, case management, and many more essential services.

Building Partnerships and Collaborative Funding Streams: Colorado Refugee Services Program (July 26, 2013). This Webinar focused on the collaboration between the Colorado Refugee Services Program (CRSP) and Colorado Works (TANF), both located within the Colorado Department of Human Services. The agencies collaborate to deliver TANF services to refugees, with county employees approving eligibility for TANF and paying Basic Cash Assistance and CRSP providing case management and workforce activities. The presenters discussed their suite of targeted employment, cultural orientation, language assistance, healthcare, and legal services provided for refugee clients. Additionally, the presenters shared how they move refugees towards employment through case management, English as a Second Language training, cultural orientation and pre-employment training, employment training, health professional recertification and entrepreneurial services that are aligned with the skills of the clients.

Connecting Refugees to TANF Services in Minnesota and Utah (June 27, 2013). This Webinar focused on two states’ approaches in connecting refugees to TANF services. Utah representatives discussed the collaboration and co-location between refugee resettlement agencies and the TANF agency that begins when refugees arrive in the state. The presenters discussed intake, translation, benefits, applications, and providing employment services with eleven employment counselors and eleven eligibility counselors working one-on-one with refugees to ensure prompt delivery of services. Presenters from Minnesota discussed their state-funded Minnesota Family Stabilization Services program where refugees receive language assessment, build English skills, take work skills assessments, and secure housing, medical and basic needs services. The presenters also discussed Minnesota’s “Community Navigators” who connect refugees to needed services and helping them find the best route to non-subsidized employment.

Using Vocationally-Focused ESL to Fast Track Workforce Development Skills for Refugees (May 30, 2013). This Webinar provided an overview of the Vocational English as a Second Language Immersion Program (VIP) program. The VIP program is a collaboration between the San Francisco Human Services Agency, Arriba Juntos, and the City College of San Francisco. The Webinar highlighted VIP’s eighteen-week intensive English language immersion program that focuses on teaching the vocabulary and the cultural norms of the work place. This highly successful program has become a model for other cities with large immigrant populations.