This week I had the great pleasure of working with Boyd Brown, area director of employment & training of Goodwill Easter Seals Minnesota (St. Paul), as he testified before a Congressional subcommittee. The hearing, which was on welfare reform proposals, specifically involved the reauthorization of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. His testimony provided great insight into the journey of an individual on public assistance, struggling to find a job and the challenges faced by case managers trying to put people to work.
Among the recommendations for TANF reform include:
- Holding providers accountable for what matters most – outcomes and not process.
- Allowing providers to document progress towards employment goals and not hours of participation offering flexibility in allowable activities to meet the unique challenges faced by individuals and families.
- Including fathers as part of the solution by adequately supporting fatherhood initiatives.
Elizabeth’s Path to Educational Attainment
Boyd told the story of Goodwill program participant, Elizabeth, to illustrate his points. When Elizabeth came to Goodwill, she slept in her car with her daughter most nights. She dropped out of school in the 10th grade and had not stepped foot in a classroom since then. To her, education was a luxury she could not afford.
Elizabeth’s initial plan included six weeks of job searching, and she gave 100 percent in finding a job but to no avail. Generally, the next step is unpaid work or volunteering, but the counselor knew this would not lead her to long-term, stable employment. The counselor convinced Elizabeth to include GED preparation in her plan, even though this doesn’t count in the work participation rate required by TANF rules.
While attending GED classes, Elizabeth also continued to struggle with housing, primarily “couch hopping” from one friend’s home to another. Just over a year later, she completed her GED and three days after that, she found a job. The following week, Elizabeth enrolled in college to pursue an associate’s degree. She moved into an apartment, her work hours increased and now she is off TANF assistance. She will graduate next year and plans to complete her B.A. to become a social worker.
Elizabeth’s story is just one of over 232,000 people on public assistance which Goodwill assisted last year. Goodwills around the country are constantly collaborating with other community partners and finding innovate ways to implement various types of subsidized jobs programs aimed at helping people reach their full potential. Goodwill agencies use a holistic, family centric approach, and therefore provide or help provide access to a range of supportive services such as assistance with child care, transportation, and stable housing.
Reauthorization of the TANF program is long overdue. As Congress contemplates reforms, Goodwill urges lawmakers to keep Elizabeth and the experiences of Boyd in mind.