The transformation of the nation’s cash assistance system into a work-oriented system that includes work requirements, sanctions for noncompliance, and time limits has increased the importance of quickly identifying the personal, family, and logistic challenges that may interfere with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients’ abilities to find and maintain competitive employment. To help identify potential barriers, many welfare offices require that TANF applicants and recipients complete an up-front self-assessment where they can identify any disabilities they might have or any other issues that might create barriers to employment. These assessments commonly ask recipients to provide information on their employment history, level of education, participation in education and training programs, physical health problems, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, current or previous domestic violence, learning difficulties, and involvement with the criminal justice system.
Upfront client self-reports serve an important purpose for TANF agencies as they provide TANF applicants an opportunity to disclose issues that might reduce their chances of finding and/or sustaining employment and TANF agencies an opportunity to identify recipients in need of specialized services quickly. However, they only go so far in identifying TANF recipients living with a disability. While recipients may disclose health issues, program staff report they do not disclose learning problems, mental illness, or substance abuse issues as easily and sometimes do not even acknowledge them to themselves. They also report that it is not uncommon for TANF recipients who have endured many challenging situations to minimize their struggles. As a result, disabilities that affect recipients’ ability to work often go undiagnosed and untreated for long periods of time. Thus, other approaches are needed to uncover disabilities that are hidden or not revealed through the routine self-reports. In this practice brief, we profile innovative state or local TANF initiatives that were designed to dig deeper to identify recipients living with a disability that impacts their ability to find or maintain employment and/or to understand the extent of their disability to provide better services to them. These in-depth and comprehensive assessment efforts are all part of larger efforts to provide individualized and specialized services and/or create work opportunities for TANF recipients living with a disability. The sites profiled were selected after a comprehensive effort to identify special employment initiatives for TANF recipients living with a disability.