Implementation of an Intensive Job Search Program for Cash Assistance Recipients: The STRIVE Program in Westchester County, New York

Publication Date: January 28, 2021
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  • Published: 2021

Introduction

Research Questions

  1. What is the context in which the Westchester County STRIVE program operates?
  2. How was the Westchester County STRIVE program designed? How was the STRIVE program implemented? What features were strongly implemented? What challenges did managers and staff face?
  3. What are the operational lessons for program administrators interested in the approach?

This report describes the operation of an intensive job search assistance program for cash assistance recipients in Westchester County, New York, and provides lessons for other policymakers and program administrators interested in the approach. In 2016-2017, Westchester County operated a full-time, eight-week course designed to teach job readiness and job search skills. Called STRIVE, the program was designed both to address participants’ current attitudes and behaviors that might prevent them from obtaining or keeping jobs and to provide assistance in searching for and finding jobs. The STRIVE program was developed and overseen by a parent organization, STRIVE International, that licenses the curriculum to a range of public and non-profit organizations serving low-income and disadvantaged populations. The STRIVE program is commonly provided to low-income non-custodial fathers and ex-offenders. It has been provided less frequently for cash assistance recipients.

Overall, Westchester County’s STRIVE program for cash assistance recipients generally adhered to STRIVE International’s model, with staff noting they benefited from the technical assistance provided by the parent organization. However, county staff reported that a significant portion of cash assistance recipients who were mandatory for work were not eligible for STRIVE because they could not meet the program’s full-time attendance requirement (i.e., missing no more than two hours of class per week). STRIVE staff also reported they made some adjustments to the content of the STRIVE curriculum to better meet the needs of cash assistance recipients. Specifically, this included softening the standard “confrontational” tone of the program and extending the time spent on the topics related to behavioral and attitudinal change. Still, the “no-show” and dropout rates in the STRIVE program for cash assistance recipients were substantial and staff reported this was due to difficulty in meeting the program’s attendance requirement.

Purpose

The TANF program provides cash assistance to low-income families, as well as a range of other supports and services to help them become self-sufficient, such as employment-related services, childcare, and transportation. To date, employment-related services designed to improve cash assistance recipients’ employment outcomes and reduce dependency have had mixed results. Many TANF recipients struggle to find and keep jobs and many families remain poor despite the assistance provided.

Although cash assistance recipients were not a common target group for the STRIVE program, Westchester County staff determined that its strong focus on employment and on attitudinal and behavioral change gave it the potential to be an effective component of the county’s TANF program. This study documents Westchester County’s experience operating the STRIVE program for cash assistance recipients and provides lessons for others interested in the program.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • Westchester County implemented the STRIVE program largely as designed, following the national curriculum and receiving technical assistance from STRIVE International.
  • Staff reported that a significant portion of the county’s cash assistance recipients who were mandatory for work were not eligible for STRIVE because they could not meet its attendance requirement. Common reasons for not being able to attend as required included part-time employment, court-mandated meetings, and substance abuse disorder treatment.
  • The “no-show” rate for the STRIVE program was substantial: over half (56 percent) of those referred to STRIVE did not attend the workshop.
  • Almost two-thirds (60 percent) of recipients who started the STRIVE program did not finish it because issues arose that prevented them from meeting its attendance requirement.
  • STRIVE’s standard “confrontational” approach did not work well for some cash assistance recipients, resulting in some adjustments to “soften” the tone of the program.
  • The aspects of the STRIVE curricula dedicated to improving cash assistance recipients’ attitudes and behaviors took more class time than generally recommended by STRIVE International.

Overall, the study indicates several factors that should be considered by program administrators interested in adopting the STRIVE program to improve employment outcomes for their cash assistance recipients:

  • STRIVE’s stringent attendance requirement may not be appropriate for some cash assistance recipients;
  • Specific training for staff to make the determination of whether a cash assistance recipient is eligible for STRIVE is needed;
  • Potentially substantial “no-show” and drop-out rates should be considered in program implementation, costs, and scale; and
  • Adaptations to soften the program’s standard “confrontational” tone and to spend more time on issues of attitude and behavior may be needed.

Methods

This implementation report focuses on the operation of the Westchester County STRIVE program from September 2016 through July 2017. The study is primarily based on a site visit in July 2017 to document the operation of the STRIVE program as well as changes made over time and successes and challenges in operating the program. On the site visit, the study team interviewed Westchester County program managers and staff and STRIVE managers and staff. The study also uses a review of STRIVE attendance records from September 2016 to May 2017.

Citation

Karin Martinson, Robin Koralek, and Siobhan Mills de la Rosa. (2020). Implementation of an Intensive Job Search Program for Cash Assistance Recipients: The STRIVE Program in Westchester County, New York. OPRE Report # 2020-124. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.