Q & A: Counting and Verifying Hours of Work Participation

Publication Date: December 13, 2016


Counting and Verifying Hours of Work Participation


Q1.  Final DRA 2005 Rules:  The work verification plan guidance only allows for 10 holidays.  Since most agencies or businesses where participants are placed in Community Service work have 12 or more holidays, how can States manage the negative impact that this has on the participation rate? 

A1.  Under the original TANF rule, States were required to report actual hours of participation; there was no allowance for holidays or excused absences.  Thus, the interim rule, and now final rule, should have a positive effect on State work participation rates.  The fact that some work site sponsors provide more than the 10 days allowed in the final rule means that States may have to find ways to compensate for days TANF recipients miss due to a holiday that is not recognized in the State Work Verification Plan.

To help ensure that work-eligible individuals meet their hourly work requirements, some TANF agencies require individuals to participate more than the average of 20 or 30 hours per week to count in the Federal work participation rate, providing some leeway should a client miss hours due to some unforeseen circumstance or a holiday that is not recognized in the State work verification plan.  In addition, some TANF agencies focus on participation hours monthly rather than weekly, allowing individuals the flexibility to miss hours in some weeks and make them up in others.  For example, an individual could work 20 hours one week, 40 hours the next week, and 30 hours per week the remaining two weeks.  It is important to remember that for most employed individuals, the standard is 40 hours per week.  The fact that most TANF recipients have an average weekly requirement of 20 or 30 hours means that there is considerable flexibility in developing work schedules to meet the work requirements.

Q2: How may a state verify hours of education in a distance learning education program?

A2: With respect to distance learning, the February 5, 2008, preamble stated:

We agree that distance learning is an important way for some families to gain the skills needed to move toward self-sufficiency.  We will count time spent in distance learning to the extent that such programs otherwise meet the work activity definitions and include supervision.  A State should explain in its Work Verification Plan how it will provide supervision and monitor hours of participation in distance learning.  (73 Fed. Reg. 6781.)

The regulations did not mandate a specific approach for verifying hours for distance learning.  A state could obtain hours of participation electronically, for example, if a tracking system or software program times and records on-line sessions.  If the distance learning medium does not allow for electronic tracking of hours, as noted above, a state may submit an approach for verifying hours that it views as appropriate and accurate to ACF for consideration as part of its work verification plan.  Please note that the Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education, has developed guidelines for measuring contact hours of distance learning that may be useful to states in developing their verification mechanisms; it is available at http://nrsweb.org/ (Posted: 4/15/2014)

Q3: How may a state document hours of education completed by a work-eligible individual?

A3:  The regulation at 45 CFR 261.61 requires a state to support each individual’s hours of participation with documentation in the case file and specifies that documentation may include, but is not limited to time sheets, service provider attendance records or school attendance records.  There are several possible ways to document hours of participation in education activities, including:

  • An instructor may document hours of participation in class.
  • Any school official, e.g., a staff member in the registrar’s office, the financial aid office, the academic department, or another administrative setting, may verify hours of attendance.
  • The case manager may document hours of participation if he or she is in ongoing contact with the individual and has adequate evidence that the individual is making satisfactory progress.

The preamble to the February 5, 2008, TANF regulations (73 Fed. Reg. 6781) discusses the importance of daily supervision and explains that:

Daily supervision means that a responsible party has daily responsibility for oversight of the individual’s participation, not necessarily daily, in-person contact with the participant.  The goal of such supervision is to ensure that individuals are participating and making progress in their assigned activities.  A work site sponsor, classroom instructor, contracted service provider, community-based provider, job search instructor, treatment provider, or even a TANF agency employee could fulfill that role.  In addition, the supervision need not involve in-person contact, but can be telephone or electronic contact where those methods are suitable.

Thus, the state may elect to designate the TANF case manager for purposes of conducting daily supervision.  If the state does so, it may use the individual’s hours reported to the case manager if:

  • the case manager and participant are in regular communication  by phone, in person, or electronically in order to discuss attendance, along with such issues as progress, support service needs, and career planning; and
  • the individual makes satisfactory progress in the educational activity.

If state chooses to rely on a case manager’s ongoing engagement in conjunction with a standard of satisfactory progress, and the recipient fails to demonstrate satisfactory progress at the end of an instructional period such as a quarter or semester, the state must subsequently make use of a heightened standard of verifying hours of education, e.g., requiring signed attendance sheets with third-party verification.

A state must describe its methods of verifying hours in its work verification plan; it could use one of these methods for verifying hours in educational activities or propose an alternative and ACF will determine if the methods comply with statutory requirements and federal TANF regulations.  Note that simply relying on scheduled hours or deeming hours because the individual is making satisfactory progress will not be sufficient.  If a state modifies its work verification requirements, it must submit an amendment to its work verification plan.  (Posted: 5/15/2014)

Q4: What documentation is necessary in order to substantiate homework time completed by a work-eligible participating in an educational activity?

A4:  A state may count all hours of supervised homework time and one hour of unsupervised homework time for each hour of class time, provided that total homework time counted does not exceed the hours required or advised by the particular educational program.  (See 45 CFR 261.60(e).)  The February 5, 2008, preamble explained that “The only documentation that is required for unsupervised homework time is a statement from the educational program indicating the amount of homework required.  For supervised homework, we require this same documentation along with a time sheet or record of attendance signed by the individual supervising the activity.”  (See 73 Fed. Reg. 6813-6814, published February 5, 2008.)

For unsupervised homework time, it is sufficient to receive a statement from the institution indicating that as a customary matter, the institution expects class preparation time of one or more hours for every hour of scheduled class time for the relevant course of study.  Once the state has this statement from the institution, it can be kept on file and applied whenever individuals are engaged in that course of study at the institution.

If a state chooses to verify hours of education through a combination of daily supervision conducted by the case manager and a standard of satisfactory progress, as described in the question above, then the case manager may also be considered to be the individual supervising homework time.  In this case, if the case manager, through ongoing engagement, determines that the individual is participating in scheduled class hours, and the recipient is making satisfactory progress, then the state may count all hours of homework required or advised by the educational program without additional documentation and without the one hour limitation per hour of class time that the regulations establish for unsupervised homework time.  In other words, all the hours of homework time would be supervised and documented by the case manager.  For example, if the educational program indicates that two hours of homework and preparation are required for every hour of scheduled class, then the state may count two hours of total homework time without a time sheet or record of attendance (as opposed to just one hour of unsupervised homework time), provided that the daily supervision by the case manager demonstrates that the recipient is attending classes and is achieving satisfactory progress.  (Posted: 5/15/2014)

Q5:  How can a state combine activities designed to improve basic skills in vocational educational training?

A5: A state may incorporate basic skills activities – including English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and GED completion – into a program of vocational educational training if the state determines that participation in such activities will improve the likelihood of success in the vocational educational training.

In the preamble to the definition of vocational educational training, we explained that these basic skills activities must be part of a broader vocational educational training program.  We stated, “Basic and remedial education clearly fall under the category of education directly related to employment, and so cannot serve as a stand-alone activity under vocational educational training” (Federal Register /Vol. 73, No. 24, Page 6794).  Thus, for example, a state may include basic education/ESOL instruction that is fully integrated in its vocational educational training program, such as Washington State’s I-BEST model of integrated content and skills instruction (see http://sbctc.edu/college/e_integratedbasiceducationandskillstraining....), and count all of the hours of participation in the integrated program as vocational educational training.  Another approach would be for the state to structure its vocational educational training program so that the vocational educational classes took place four days a week and basic education instruction, determined to be reasonably likely to contribute to success in the activity, occurred on the fifth day.  Or, if the state determines that a limited period of remedial education would improve the likelihood of success in the vocational educational training, the state may count this participation in remedial education as vocational educational training.

In sum, if a recipient participates in basic education that will improve the likelihood of success in the vocational educational training and that is integrated within, concurrent to, or for a limited-duration prerequisite to vocational educational training, then the time spent in the basic education activities may count as vocational educational training for work participation rate purposes.  Given the 12-month limitation on counting this activity, it is important for states to consider carefully how to structure their programs to achieve the best employment outcomes for participants with different skill levels and abilities.

In the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) (Pub. L. 113-128), Congress emphasized providing individuals with access to career pathways programs as an important strategy to help them achieve economic stability.  For many individuals, the development of basic skills is a critical component and essential first step in a career pathway.  ACF is revising the guidance it provided in the TANF preamble to the 1999 Final Rule (64 Fed. Reg. 17720 (April 12, 1999)) to facilitate an integrated approach to vocational educational training that will support career pathways participation among TANF recipients.  To the extent the preamble language differs from this response, this response governs in describing the allowable approaches that jurisdictions may use.   (Posted 12/13/16)


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