Assisting TANF Recipients Living with Disabilities to Obtain and Maintain Employment: Creating Work Opportunities

Publication Date: February 15, 2008


Improving the employment and other vocational outcomes of individuals living with a disability has long been a goal of policymakers, program operators and individuals living with a disability.  In recent years, to advance this goal, the U.S. Social Security Administration has embarked on several major initiatives such as the Ticket-to-Work program and the Youth Transition Demonstration project that aim to improve the employment outcomes of individuals living with a disability.  These projects build on earlier research that demonstrates that the most effective way to increase employment among individuals living with a disability is to help them obtain employment directly rather than providing treatment or lengthy pre-employment assessment, training, and counseling.

This approach is consistent with the employment focus of state Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs.  Because TANF recipients living with a disability sometimes lack credentials such as a high school diploma or work experience, they are not always successful in finding paid competitive employment, even with extra job search assistance.  To provide work opportunities when the paid labor market fails, some TANF agencies have implemented special initiatives to create targeted work opportunities for TANF recipients living with a disability.  Jobs may take the form of unpaid work experience positions (where the clients continue to receive TANF benefits and work for no additional compensation), paid subsidized employment positions (where TANF funds are used to pay clients’ wages for the hours they work), or unsubsidized employment positions (where the TANF program provides support to clients, but the employer pays clients’ wages).

This practice brief is designed to be a resource for policymakers and program administrators interested in creating work opportunities for TANF recipients.  The first section describes some of the potential benefits and challenges associated with creating work opportunities.  The second section presents case studies of three programs that illustrate how these programs are designed and structured.  Finally, looking across the case study programs, we identify the key program elements that may be considered in creating similar programs.

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