About Us
E Join Our Mailing List

News > Skills Blog

Posts About Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

The CEA Training Report: Very Wide of the Mark

  ·   By Senior Fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, LaFarge SJ Professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown and former NSC board member Harry J Holzer
The CEA Training Report: Very Wide of the Mark

By: Senior Fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, LaFarge SJ Professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown and former NSC board member Harry J Holzer

Georgetown University, August, 13 2019-- The White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) has issued a report that claims to assess the available evidence on government employment and training programs, and to offer policy implications based on this assessment.[1]

But the document is highly flawed. It clearly misrepresents basic facts about federal job training programs in the US, and it misinterprets research evidence; it appears more driven by ideological and political agendas rather than what is best for US workers. In short, it is very wide of the mark as an evaluation of federal training in the US.

For instance, on the fundamental question of how much the US spends on workforce development: Figure 2 of the CEA report implies that federal spending on workforce development has been rising over time. But it does so without adjusting for inflation – an astounding feature in a report written by economists. In the text, it acknowledges “real (i.e., inflation-adjusted) spending in 2018 is nearly unchanged from the 2014 levels;” but it fails to note dramatic declines in such funding over the past four decades (by almost two-thirds), while the US labor force has roughly grown in size by half.[2] It quietly acknowledges that the nearly $19B of federal funding for such programs, constituting less than one-tenth of one percent of US GDP, is a paltry sum in comparison to spending in most European Union countries on “active labor market policy” (which often falls in the range of .5 to 1 percent of GDP, above the numbers it cites), while not acknowledging how low such spending is for an American economy with 160 million workers.[3]

When reviewing evaluation evidence, the report cites a range of studies using widely respected methodologies that show more or less positive results for programs funded by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and its earlier incarnations, with many (including mine) showing positive impacts.[4] Yet the CEA concludes that “Government job training programs (with the exception of apprenticeships) appear to be largely ineffective” (p. 23), in a leap of logic that clearly runs counter to the much more mixed evidence the report provides.

When discussing the most important recent study with negative findings on training – by Fortson et al. in 2017 – the CEA report fails to highlight the evidence that intensive workforce services have positive impacts on worker earnings (of 7-20 percent, depending on the source). These results strongly imply that such services are cost-effective – while federal funding for them remains extremely modest.[5]

And, when discussing the lack of positive training impacts in the Fortson study, the CEA report omits important caveats highlighted in the study itself – like the fact that relatively few workers in the “treatment” group actually received training while many in the “control” group received it with funding from other sources – that render the lack of estimated training impacts very hard to interpret and “inconclusive,” as indicated by the authors. The CEA also ignores other well-known and rigorous studies showing impressive training impacts for adult or dislocated workers.[6]

But the most egregious aspect of the CEA report is that it completely fails to acknowledge a growing evaluation literature on highly effective “sector-based” or “career pathway” programs that show large and lasting impacts on disadvantaged worker earnings. These mostly local (though now spreading) programs – like Per Scholas, Project QUEST, the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership, the Jewish Vocational Services-Boston, and Year Up – have generated large, statistically significant earnings impacts in several randomized controlled evaluation studies.[7] It’s worth noting that these programs all make substantial investments in the skills of their participants, and work closely with employers to ensure those skills are relevant in the labor market. These results offer a strong counterpoint to the somewhat disappointing results for training in the WIOA study. Though they are not explicitly “government” programs, they have received financial support from a range of state and federal (as well as private) sources.[8]    

Given the very clear successes of these programs, a sensible policy discussion would focus on how to replicate and scale the best sector-based efforts at community colleges or other training providers with available or new federal and state funding. Instead, the CEA completely ignores this strong body of evidence on programs that work, while presenting misleading facts on federal job training funding over time and a skewed portrait of evidence on its impacts. Furthermore, the CEA report makes no evidence-informed recommendations for future policy directions in workforce development.

This report should not be taken seriously as the basis for any discussion of federal funding for workforce policy in the future.

[1] Government Employment and Training Programs: Assessing the Evidence on their Performance. The Council of Economic Advisers, Executive Office of the President, June 2019.

[2]CETA Training Programs – Do They Work for Adults? Congressional Budget Office, 1982.

[3] Such policies include training, job placement assistance, and subsidized work experience. See Chad Brown and Caroline Freund. Active Labor Market Policies: Lessons for the US. Peterson Institute for International Economics, 2019.

[4] Frederik Andersson et al. “Does Federally-Funded Job Training Work? Nonexperimental Estimates of WIA Training Impacts Using Longitudinal Data on Workers and Firms.” NBER Working Paper, 2013; and Carolyn Heinrich et al. “New Estimates of Public Employment and Training Program Net Impacts: A Nonexperimental Evaluation of the Workforce Investment Act Program.” IZA Discussion Paper, 2009. Across studies, the estimates of training impacts on earnings per quarter are in the range of $320–$887 per quarter for participants, which indicates fairly strong agreement given the varying study samples and methodologies Estimated effects of training on the probability of employment are also positive and statistically significant across a majority of studies. These estimates of employment increases range from about 5 to 29 percentage points (measured monthly or quarterly), with some differences observed between women and men, and by specific training type and time following program entry. 

[5] See Kenneth Fortson et al. Providing Public Workforce Services to Job Seekers: 30-Month Impacts Findings on the WIA Adults and Dislocated Worker Programs. Mathematica Policy Research, 2017. As the CEA notes, “Wagner-Peyser” funding for such services at over 3000 job centers across the US is under $.7B now and has changed little in recent years despite their clear cost-effectiveness. Providing intensive services increased earnings over the follow-up period by $3,300 to $7,100 (7 to 20 percent) per customer depending on the data source. The benefit-cost analyses demonstrate that providing intensive services is cost-effective from the perspectives of customers, taxpayers, and society as a whole (Fortson et al., 2017).

[6] For instance, see Louis Jacobson et al. “The Impact of Community College Retraining on Older Workers: Can We Teach Old Dogs New Tricks? Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 2005.

[7] See Anne Roder and Mark Elliott, Nine-Year Gains: Quest’s Ongoing Impact, Economic Mobility Corporation, 2018; David Fein and Jill Hamadyck, Bridging the Opportunity Divide for Low-Income Youth: Implementation and Early Impacts of the Year-Up Program, US Department of HHS, 2018; and Sheila Maguire et al. Tuning Into Local Labor Markets, PPV, 2010. To take one example, The Year Up experimental evaluation found that young adults in the treatment group saw a 53% increase in initial earnings, which remained strong over time, with 40% earnings gains two years out.

[8] Public funding sources for these programs have included WIOA (and its predecessor), federal Social Innovation Funds, and state funding for community colleges.

Posted In: Work Based Learning, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, SNAP Employment and Training

New APHSA-NSC Paper Encourages Congress to Shift TANF to Outcomes-Based Model

  ·   By Kermit Kaleba,
New APHSA-NSC Paper Encourages Congress to Shift TANF to Outcomes-Based Model

This week, the American Public Human Services Association and National Skills Coalition released a joint paper calling on Congress to shift the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs from the current process-based state accountability model to an outcomes-based model. Building on proposals included in bipartisan bills introduced in both the House and Senate last year, “Measuring what Matters”  encourages Congress to consider adopting performance measures consistent with the common performance measures under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to strengthen connections between TANF and other workforce programs.

Since TANF was first authorized in 1998, the primary performance measure for states is the “work participation rate,” which requires states to ensure that 50 percent of TANF-receiving families with a work-eligible adult – and 90 percent of families with two work-eligible adults – be engaged in a minimum number of hours of work or other qualifying activities on a monthly basis. The work participation rate as currently structured provides limited incentives for states to invest resources in the kinds of education and training that can help TANF participants and other low-income workers succeed in today’s economy, and also creates significant administrative burdens for state and local program administrators. The law further places restrictions on the percentage of individuals engaged in education training who may count towards state work participation rates – a limitation starkly at odds with the growing skill demands of today’s labor market.  

Shifting TANF to an outcomes-based accountability system – where states are rewarded based on how successfully they are assisting TANF participants in getting the skills and credentials necessary to compete in today’s labor market – would significantly improve TANF’s ability to realize its goal of promoting work.

In the paper, APHSA and NSC argue for reorienting the program to align with the WIOA common performance measures, including measures around employment, earnings, and credential attainment. By adopting these measures – which have also been adopted in some form across a range of other federal workforce, education, and human services programs – Congress could send a strong signal about the importance of investing in skills for today’s workers while supporting greater alignment between critical workforce and human services systems.

The paper outlines some key questions for lawmakers as they consider shifting to an outcomes-based model, including questions of which TANF participants should be included in reporting under such a system, and how states might negotiate performance targets. The paper also highlights some practical considerations for implementation of an outcomes-based system, including how to facilitate data sharing between state agencies and the need for a transition period to allow states to adjust their current service models in order to take advantage of new education and training opportunities for participants.

TANF is currently authorized through the end of June. Congress is expected to approve a short-term extension of TANF through September 30, but the prospects for a more comprehensive overhaul this year are uncertain. National Skills Coalition strongly supports efforts to modernize TANF to better reflect the needs of TANF participants in today’s economy, and we hope to work with lawmakers to advance bipartisan reforms to this critical component of our nation’s antipoverty strategy.  


Posted In: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
Administration reorganization would eliminate critical workforce and education programs and expand ineffective work requirements

Earlier today, the Trump Administration released a proposal to restructure the federal government that includes merging many of the functions currently handled by the Departments of Labor and Education into a single Department of Education and the Workforce. The proposal would also establish a standing Council on Public Assistance tasked in part with administering a “uniform work requirements” policy across several federal programs.

This proposal is unlikely to gain traction in Congress, as legislators have rejected earlier calls by the administration to both cut funding for critical workforce and education programming and to expand ineffective work requirements. However, it reflects the continued push from the administration to eliminate vital workforce and education programming and to implement detrimental and ineffective work requirements across safety net programs.

National Skills Coalition strongly opposes these efforts to expand work requirements, which have demonstrated little impact in increasing employment or reducing poverty but have led to reduced access to critical income supports for millions of low-income workers and their families. We also strongly oppose efforts to eliminate or consolidate federal workforce and education programs that have helped U.S. businesses and workers obtain the skills and credentials needed to succeed in today’s economy. We look forward to working with the Administration and Congressional leaders to support constructive and meaningful policies that invest in our nation’s greatest asset – our workforce.

Read a statement on the reorganization from NSC CEO Andy Van Kleunen here.

Proposed Changes to Departments of Labor and Education

The proposal would merge the Departments of Labor and Education into the Department of Education and the Workforce, explicitly eliminating “overlapping” programming and funding sources.

The newly established Department of Education and the Workforce would be comprised of four subagencies:

The K-12 agency would move administration of the K-12 system from the Department of Education largely in the same form they are now. This agency would include the Offices of Elementary and Secondary Education and English Language Acquisition.

The American Workforce and Higher Education Administration would merge the functions currently administered by DOL’s Employment and Training Administration, Women’s Bureau, Veterans’ Employment & Training Services and Office of Disability Employment Policy with Ed’s Office of Postsecondary Education and Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education. Continuing the administration’s focus on apprenticeship, the proposal would also task this sub-agency with administering an Apprenticeship and Impact Fund. Under the proposal, this agency would be broken in to a series of “components”:

  • Higher Education
  • Disability Employment
  • Adult Workforce Development
  • Youth Workforce Development
  • Veterans Employment Office

The Enforcement Agency would merge DOL’s current enforcement agencies including Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program, Office of Labor-Management Standards, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs and Wage & Hour Division with Ed’s Office of Civil Rights. Justification for this proposal relies on the fact that these divisions represent half of DOL’s workforce. 

The Research, Evaluation and Administration Agency would merge current sub-agencies with evaluation and research components, including Ed’s Institute with Education Sciences. The proposal would move the Bureau of Labor Statistics to the Department of Commerce.

While National Skills Coalition agrees that federal workforce, education, and public assistance programs could be better aligned, we do not believe that this goal is furthered through wholesale consolidation and cuts to these programs.  Congress has taken significant action to strengthen coordination of federal investments – most notably through the bipartisan passage of the the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in 2014 – and states and other stakeholders have undertaken major updates to their workforce development strategies and policies to reflect this greater emphasis on alignment. The proposed reorganization provides limited details on funding levels for programs that would be retained and provides limited guidance on how the administration would be better positioned to coordinate programs and activities through the proposed consolidation process.

The administration has called  for elimination of programming in their Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 and 2019 budget requests and recent Executive Orders including those on apprenticeship and  safety net programs. Funding for workforce and education is still far below historic levels and below the level of investment necessary to meet worker need or business demand, but Congress has largely rejected the administration’s attempts to cut these programs in the last two years and has actually increased funding for many workforce and education programs, reflecting the strong bipartisan support for these investments.

Proposed Changes to Safety Net Programming

The proposal would also consolidate U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), the current administrator of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Employment & Training (E&T) program, into the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Administration for Children and Families (ACF), the current Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) administrator. The proposal would also create a new Council on Public Assistance to administer work requirement policy across a range of safety net programs, including SNAP, TANF and Medicaid.

This proposal continues the administration’s push for expanded work requirements in a number of federal policies, consistent with an Executive Order the President signed in April and proposals in both the FY 2018 and 2019 Presidential Budget Requests to reduce funding for these programs. The Senate Agriculture Committee rejected an expansion of SNAP work requirements in their bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Farm Bill, marked up just last week. While the House Farm bill would expand work requirements, it seems unlikely that any final Farm Bill will reflect this approach.

Posted In: Career and Technical Education, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, SNAP Employment and Training

House committee approves TANF reauthorization bill

  ·   By Kermit Kaleba,
House committee approves TANF reauthorization bill

Earlier today, the House Ways and Means Committee approved the Jobs and Opportunities with Benefits and Services (JOBS) for Success Act, legislation that would reauthorize the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program through Fiscal Year (FY) 2023. The bill was approved on a party line vote of 22-14.

As noted in our analysis of the bill earlier this month, the bill would maintain current work requirements for TANF recipients but would eliminate the “work participation rate” that requires states to ensure that a certain percentage of work-eligible households are meeting hourly work requirements. Instead, the bill would shift to an outcomes-based system that is somewhat consistent with the common performance metrics under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The bill would lift some key restrictions on education and training, including the limit on the number of months that an individual can be participating in training, and the cap on the percentage of individuals who may be in training and be counted towards the participation rate. National Skills Coalition supports the inclusion of performance outcomes and the elimination of training restrictions, but we oppose the continued inclusion of ineffective hourly work requirements as a condition of benefit eligibility.

The final bill approved by the committee did not include an earlier proposal to split the TANF state grant into a formula grant and a smaller matching grant; however, it does maintain funding for the overall grant at current levels, which have not been updated since TANF was originally passed in 1996. NSC supports increased funding for TANF, and we are disappointed by the static funding levels proposed by the JOBS for Success Act.

Committee Democrats offered several amendments during the markup, including the Improving Access to Good Jobs for Parents Act (HR 5888), which would provide $900 million in grants to partnerships between TANF agencies and other stakeholders to provide high quality training for TANF participants. National Skills Coalition has endorsed HR 5888, and we will continue to advocate for inclusion of this important proposal as part of any final reauthorization package.

The committee bill will now head to the House floor, but it is unclear when a vote would be taken, as the House is dealing with a range of other priorities – including resolving an emerging standoff in the Republican caucus over immigration legislation, and potentially rescheduling a vote on the Farm Bill that failed late last week. Even if the bill were to pass the House, it is considered unlikely that it would be able to attract sufficient support in the Senate to advance.

National Skills Coalition will continue to monitor developments on this legislation and provide updates to the field as new information becomes available.

Posted In: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

House TANF Bill Would Expand Work Requirements, Add Performance Outcomes

  ·   By Kermit Kaleba,
House TANF Bill Would Expand Work Requirements, Add Performance Outcomes

On Tuesday, the House Ways and Means Committee released a discussion draft of legislation to reauthorize the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The draft bill takes some important steps towards modernizing the nation’s primary antipoverty cash assistance program by establishing new employment and earnings outcomes to evaluate state performance in transitioning TANF recipients into work opportunities, but undermines this effort by proposing to significantly expand mandatory work requirements for qualifying individuals.

The “Joining Opportunity with Benefits and Services for Success Act” would make the following key changes:

  • Replacing the current “work participation rate” with a broader work requirement for certain TANF recipients. Under current law, states are required to meet two annual performance benchmarks, known as work participation rates. States must ensure that 1) 50 percent of TANF-receiving families with work-eligible adults in the state are engaged in a minimum number of hours of work or related activities - usually an average of 30 hours per week, although there are some exceptions - and that 2) 90 percent of families with two work-eligible adults are engaged in qualifying work activities. States are given significant flexibility in terms of setting individual work requirements, though they must sanction individuals who do not comply with state requirements. States that fail to meet their work participation can be subject to reductions in their states grants, starting at five percent of their total federal allocation and increasing for each successive year of non-compliance. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, roughly 1.1 million individuals were deemed to be work eligible, and nearly 600,000 individuals engaged in some form of qualifying work activity – mostly through unsubsidized employment. 

The work participation rates have long been subject to criticism from both the right and the left, with the former camp often arguing that the work participation rates are too lenient – because they allow a large percentage of work-eligible TANF individuals to not be engaged in work or related activities – and progressives arguing that the work participation rates encourage states to adopt a “work-first” approach that emphasizes rapid labor market attachment over more sustainable career pathways. The law does discourage participation in education and training, limiting the percentage of individuals engaged in training that can count towards the work participation rates and capping participation in certain training activities at twelve months. In FY 2016, only about 4 percent of all work-eligible TANF recipients engaged in vocational education, job skills training, or on the job training.

The discussion draft would eliminate the work participation rates, but in doing so would expand the work requirements so that states had to ensure all work-eligible adults are engaged in qualifying work or related activities, rather than a percentage of those individuals, and sanction individuals who fail to comply with those work requirements with a reduction or termination of benefits. The law would eliminate state penalties for failure to meet participation rates.

This approach would likely have significant negative impacts both for states and TANF recipients. For states, it would require substantially increasing administrative capacity to ensure compliance with the new requirements, while providing no new resources at the federal level to address increased costs. It would reduce state flexibility to determine whether TANF recipients are able to successfully engage in work or training activities, and require states to provide hundreds of thousands of new employment or training opportunities for affected individuals. For TANF recipients themselves, the increased work requirement provisions would almost certainly lead to many individuals losing access to cash assistance for non-compliance – particularly in areas with fewer job opportunities and for individuals with barriers to employment - and would place significant pressure on qualifying participants to accept lower-wage jobs in order to maintain benefit access.

National Skills Coalition strongly opposes the expansion of work requirements in federal public assistance programs, as they have consistently proven to be ineffective at moving individuals out of poverty and into family-supporting jobs, and generally lead to reductions in access to needed benefits. They also create significant administrative burdens on states and other stakeholders who are responsible for ensuring compliance with hourly requirements. We would urge the committee to reject this expansion of work requirements, though we support the elimination of the cumbersome work participation rates.

On the plus side, it appears that the discussion draft would remove some of the training restrictions – including the 30 percent cap on vocational education and the twelve month limit on participation – which would be consistent with National Skills Coalition’s reauthorization recommendations, and should be retained in any final bill.

  • Adopting new state outcomes measures. In lieu of the work participation rates, states would be required to negotiate annual performance metrics that are (somewhat) consistent with the core performance measures under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Starting in FY 2020, states would be required to establish and meet targets for:
    • The percentage of work-eligible individuals who are in unsubsidized employment during the second quarter after exiting TANF;
    • The percentage of work-eligible individuals who are in unsubsidized employment during the second and fourth quarters after exiting TANF;
    • The median earnings of work-eligible individuals who are in unsubsidized employment during the second quarter after exiting TANF; and
    • The percentage of work-eligible individuals under the age of 24 who are enrolled in a secondary school or equivalent program, who receive a high school diploma or equivalency during participation in TANF or within one year after exit.

The Department of Health and Human Services would be required to utilize a statistical adjustment model to adjust state proposed levels of performance based on economic conditions and characteristics of the service population – mirroring similar provisions under WIOA – and be required to publish online performance reports for each state, including a grade of state performance on the performance metrics and any penalties or corrective action taken by the agency for failure to achieve requisite performance levels. The bill does not establish any specific penalties for non-performance but authorizes the Secretary of HHS to establish regulations governing the performance negotiation process.

In general, the shift to an outcomes-based model for TANF would be consistent with NSC’s reauthorization recommendations, and we applaud the committee for taking this important step. However, there are some concerns about the performance measures outlined and the lack of clear state accountability. The bill does not include a measure related to attainment of recognized postsecondary credentials, a key innovation under WIOA that was intended to ensure that states are incentivized to invest in high-quality training opportunities for low-income residents. While the inclusion of secondary attainment metrics is critical – fewer than ten percent of adult TANF recipients have any educational attainment beyond the high school level – it is vital to support and encourage attainment of postsecondary credentials in an economy where 80 percent of all jobs require some form of postsecondary education.

NSC would strongly encourage the committee to amend the performance criteria to align with the WIOA requirements, and we would further encourage the committee to include WIOA’s metrics relating to measurable skills gains while participating in education and training. NSC also encourages the committee to provide greater clarity on expectations for states that fail to meet one or more performance requirements, and consider adopting measures to reward states that exceed performance measures.

  • Changing the current funding model. TANF currently has two primary funding streams: a state block grant funded at roughly $16.5 billion per year, and a contingency fund of around $600 million. The draft bill would maintain the current funding levels for the basic state block grant, but would significantly alter the distribution of the grant by dividing the funding into two new streams. States would now receive an annual “mandatory” amount equal to 75 percent of their FY 2018 state grant allocation, which would be conditioned on states continuing to “maintenance of effort” spending requirements (although state MOE requirements would be reduced from current levels). States would also be eligible for “matching” funds equal to 25 percent of their FY 2018 allocations, which would provide a dollar for dollar match on state expenditures for certain “core” activities, including cash assistance, case management, work wage subsidies, and supportive services. Unused matching funds would be redistributed to other states.

The proposed changes to the block grant are troubling on several levels. Topline funding for the state block grant has not been increased since the original TANF reform bill in 1996, and with inflation the purchasing power of the grant has declined by more than 30 percent over that time. Failing to increase funding for the basic grant – and reducing state MOE requirements – means fewer resources overall are available to support critical activities for TANF recipients. The bill would also prohibit states from using TANF dollars directly to provide child care or child welfare, instead requiring states to transfer funds into other programs (such as the Child Care and Development Fund) before utilizing those dollars for child care costs. 

The new “matching” grants would likely result in fewer services for TANF recipients, as cash-strapped states are forced to choose between expending scarce state dollars on cash assistance, training and other key benefits; or foregoing federal resources. The proposed funding formula for the new matching grants is also of concern; the Congressional Research Service estimates that the formula would result in significant redistribution of TANF funds, with some states gaining large relative increases in federal funds - Texas, Arkansas, Nevada, and Alabama would all see more than 50 percent increases – while other states would lose funding, including California ($419 million per year) and New York ($374 million per year).

There is some merit in ensuring that states are utilizing their TANF dollars to pay for “core” services like cash assistance and training. In FY 2016, states spent less than half of their combined federal and state MOE funds on cash assistance, child care, and work-related activities, and in fact the Obama administration had proposed requiring states to spend at least 55 percent of their combined funds on these activities in his FY 2017 budget request. However, the matching requirements are likely to create significant challenges for states, even with the reduced MOE requirements. National Skills Coalition would urge the committee to reject the proposed division of the basic state block grant, and increase overall federal funding to restore the grants to their historical inflation-adjusted levels.

The Ways and Means Committee is likely to consider the bill later this month, but prospects for moving it to the House floor are unclear. House Republicans are still gauging support for a Farm Bill reauthorization package approved by the House Agriculture Committee last month, which has drawn strong opposition from Democrats for its proposed expansion of work requirements for SNAP recipients; it seems likely that the Farm Bill would need to be moved ahead of any TANF reauthorization effort. It is unlikely that the discussion draft would be able to attract 60 votes in the Senate, even if it were to pass the House this year. National Skills Coalition will continue to monitor developments with this process and provide updates to the field as new information becomes available.

Posted In: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
House Farm Bill undermines proposed SNAP E&T increase with expanded, ineffective work requirements

Correction: The original post included incorrect information regarding time limits for individuals subject to work requirements and changes to WIOA state plan and partnership options; the post has been updated to address these errors.

The House Agriculture Committee yesterday released draft legislation – the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2) - to reauthorize a range of federal agriculture and nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). The bill would expand funding for the SNAP Employment & Training (E&T) program, but undermines this investment with sweeping changes to SNAP eligibility that would likely result in millions of Americans losing access to basic food assistance.

The Good – Increased Investments in Employment and Training. The Farm Bill was last reauthorized in 2014 following a lengthy and difficult debate, with the original House version also calling for draconian eligibility changes that were ultimately rejected. The final 2014 legislation include a number of policy changes to strengthen and improve SNAP E&T, including restoring state Employment and Training Program grants to $90 million (from a cut to $79 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2012); establishing new performance reporting requirements for SNAP E&T recipients; and investing $200 million in pilot grants to help ten states expand and improve their SNAP E&T programs.

The draft bill would build on some these important improvements in SNAP E&T, significantly increasing the state administrative grant program from the current $90 million for FY 2019, to $250 million in FY 2020, to $1 billion for FY 2021 and subsequent fiscal years. The minimum allocation for states would be increased from $50,000 to $100,000. The bill would eliminate grants that allocate $20 million per year to states that provide guaranteed access to employment and training services for individuals at risk of losing SNAP eligibility (often referred to as “pledge” states), and would replace this language with a new reservation of not more than $150 million per year that would be set aside for eligible training providers identified under section 122 of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).The bill would also maintain the current “50-50” program that allows states and service providers to be reimbursed for certain costs of operating SNAP E&T programs. These proposed increases to SNAP E&T funding reflect growing bipartisan consensus on the value of investments in training and education to reduce poverty and help low-income individuals succeed in today’s labor market.

The bill would also amend current language relating to employment or training activities that can be used to satisfy eligibility requirements to include subsidized employment, apprenticeship, and unpaid or volunteer work, although the last category of activity is limited to six months out of any twelve-month period.

The Bad – Harsh and Unrealistic Work Requirements.While these changes represent an important step forward, the draft bill would significantly undermine any gains by expanding the number of SNAP recipients who would be subject to harsh new work requirements.

The House bill would expand hourly work requirements to a broader population of SNAP participants, would eliminate the current three-month grace period, and would effectively eliminate state flexibility to operate SNAP E&T programs on a voluntary basis – a key element of successful E&T programs across the country – instead mandating that all non-exempt participants engage in work or a training program in order to retain eligibility.

This is a major change from current law, which does not generally impose specific hourly requirements on SNAP participants, except for individuals known as Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents (ABAWDs), who are individuals between the ages of 18-49 who do not have dependents, and who are not disabled.

ABAWDs are currently limited to three months of benefits in any 36-month period in which they do not participate in at least 80 hours of work or other qualifying activities. The House bill would expand hourly work requirements to a broader population of SNAP participants, and wouleffectively eliminatestate flexibility to operate SNAP E&T programs on a voluntary basis – a key element of successful E&T programs across the country – and instead mandates that all non-exempt participants engage in work or a training program in order to retain eligibility. It also proposes stringent penalties for non-compliance with work requirements: a first violation would result in the loss of SNAP eligibility for twelve months, and a second violation would result in the loss of eligibility for 36 months.

The bill proposes to provide some protections for individuals by requiring a new mandatory level of service for all individuals who are subject to the expanded work requirements, including required case management services with individualized service plans. In some ways, this would be an improvement over current law, under which ABAWDs are not automatically guaranteed employment and training services, but there would be significant concerns about the capacity of states to provide meaningful levels of service. It is estimated that these new work requirements could impact up to seven million individuals per year, which will likely create significant capacity challenges for states seeking to create sufficient work or training opportunities for impacted participants; the most recent data for the federally-funded workforce system indicates that Title I-funded programs only served 6.8 million participants in Program Year 2015, meaning this expansion of work requirements could effectively double required service levels through the American Job Center network and other system partners. In addition, the new rules would require substantial new administrative capacity at the state and local level to help monitor and track individual participation in qualifying activities, making these programs far more cumbersome and costly for stakeholders to run.

While H.R. 2 does authorize a two-year transition period for states, and does provide some welcome resources for SNAP E&T, it is unrealistic to expect states to develop and implement high-quality workforce programming for this many individuals, particularly given the long-term decline in funding for WIOA training and adult education programs over the past two decades.

The Unknown – Where This Bill is Headed. The draft bill was introduced on a largely partisan basis, and it is not expected that Agriculture Committee Democrats will support the bill when the committee “marks up” the legislation, which may happen the week of April 16th. While the lack of Democratic support would likely not prevent committee passage, there is some question whether the House would be able to pass the legislation in its current form: House minority leader Nancy Pelosi is urging members of her caucus to strongly oppose the bill if it comes up for a floor vote, and the conservative House Freedom Caucus has not yet indicated whether they will support the bill. Senate Agriculture Committee members have also indicated that they are less likely to pursue major changes in any farm bill they might introduce later this year, and it is almost certain that Senate Democrats would reject legislation that expanded work requirements for SNAP, making it difficult to advance legislation that would attract the 60 votes necessary in that chamber.

Further complicating the conversation, the Trump Administration has signaled their interest in pushing forward with potential regulatory changes that may lead to harsher work requirements across a range of public assistance programs, including SNAP: the White House issued an Executive Order earlier this week calling on federal agencies to review programs under their jurisdiction to identify opportunities to expand work requirements, and the US Department of Agriculture in February requested comments on potential changes to state waivers to current ABAWD time limits.

National Skills Coalition opposes the proposed legislation as currently drafted, and urges the committee to reject the proposed changes to SNAP eligibility and instead use this reauthorization process to build on the successes of the 2014 improvements to SNAP E&T. In an economy where more than 80 percent of all jobs will require some form of postsecondary education and training – and as many as half of all long-term SNAP participants have less than a high school diploma – it is more important than ever to make sure that all workers and businesses have access to the skills and credentials that are needed to sustain economic growth. National Skills Coalition released recommendations in November 2017 that the committee could consider as they seek to build employment opportunities through the Farm Bill; and we look forward to working with committee members to revise the bill to better reflect the needs of today’s labor market.

Posted In: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, SNAP Employment and Training
Trump releases executive order calling for work requirements, elimination of workforce programs

Last night, President Trump signed an Executive Order calling for new work requirements across a broad range of means-tested public assistance programs, and further calling for the consolidation or elimination of federal workforce development programs.

The order criticizes federal public assistance programs, suggesting that they “trap” individuals in poverty, and requires the Secretaries of the Treasury, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Education to undertake a review process over the next 90 days to a) review all current regulations and guidance relating to waivers or exemptions to work requirements in programs under their jurisdiction; b) review all public assistance programs that do not require work as a condition of eligibility, and determine whether a work requirement could be imposed; and c) review all public assistance programs that do require work as a condition of eligibility and determine whether enforcement of those requirements is consistent with a set of “economic mobility” principles set forth in the order. Upon completion of the review, the agencies must submit recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget for regulatory and policy changes to programs that will strengthen work requirements; agencies must then take steps to implement those proposed changes within 90 days of submitting the recommendations.

The order also states that “the Federal Government” should review current federally funded workforce development programs and, where more than one agency administers a program or programs that are “similar in scope or population served,” those programs should be consolidated under the agency that is ‘best equipped to fulfill the expectations” of the program. In addition, “ineffective” programs should be eliminated.

The White House has already taken several steps to encourage work requirements in public assistance programs, including urging states to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients, and requesting public comments on potential regulatory changes under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that would reduce state flexibility around work requirements for certain SNAP recipients. The President has also included recommendations for funding cuts and program changes to public assistance programs in his budget proposals for both Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 and FY 2019, as well as steep cuts to federal workforce programs, although Congress largely ignored those recommendations, and in fact increased funding for key workforce programs in the recent FY 2018 omnibus appropriations package.

Congressional Republicans have also been aggressively promoting the imposition of work requirements across a means-tested federal programs: the House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow that is widely expected to lay out the case for stronger work requirements under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, and the House Agriculture Committee is expected to release a Farm Bill reauthorization legislation as early as this week that calls for much more stringent work requirements on SNAP participants.

National Skills Coalition strongly opposes these efforts to expand work requirements, which have demonstrated little impact in increasing employment or reducing poverty, but have led to reduced access to critical income supports for millions of low-income workers and their families. We also strongly oppose efforts to eliminate or consolidate federal workforce programs that have helped U.S. businesses and workers obtain the skills and credentials needed to succeed in today’s economy. In the coming weeks, we will be highlighting opportunities for state and local advocates to weigh in against ineffective work requirements, and encouraging policymakers to focus instead on strengthening access to education and training to move more low-income workers into well-paying jobs and out of poverty.

Posted In: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, SNAP Employment and Training

White House budget promotes some workforce priorities, but includes drastic cuts to key programs

  ·   By Kermit Kaleba, Katie Spiker, and Katie Brown
White House budget promotes some workforce priorities, but includes drastic cuts to key programs

On February 12th, the Trump Administration released its Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Presidential Budget Request, providing a mixed bag of funding increases and cuts across a range of federal workforce, education, and human services programs.

The annual budget request comes at an unusual moment in the Washington calendar, with Congress still trying to finalize spending levels for FY 2018. Congress last week passed a two-year bipartisan budget agreement that would raise defense and non-defense budget caps for the next two years by nearly $300 billion, including increases to non-defense spending caps of $63 billion for FY 2018 and $68 billion by 2019. Last week’s agreement also authorized a stopgap Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded through March 23rd as lawmakers work to complete FY 2018 spending decisions under the increased caps.

Because the President’s budget released today was developed before last week’s budget deal, it does not include funding at levels that are consistent with the new caps; instead, the Administration is touting broad cuts to non-defense programs – a total of $3 trillion over ten years – as a highlight of the FY’19 budget. While Congress is unlikely to adopt the President’s recommendations in their current form, today’s budget does put additional pressure on appropriators to consider at least nominal reductions in funding to discretionary programs under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, despite strong bipartisan support for these critical programs.

The budget request does include some good proposals around workforce and education, including a recommendation to expand Pell grants to short-term programs and additional funds for apprenticeship. The White House also released an addendum to their previously prepared budget request, in response to last week’s Congressional budget agreement, in which the administration appears to recommend spending an addition $1.3 billion in FY 2019 non-defense discretionary funds on WIOA formula grants – effectively overriding the $1 billion proposed cuts in the original budget request.

The budget request and addendum continue an inconsistent narrative from the administration on the importance of workforce and education programs. The proposed cuts aren’t surprising given an administration focus on eliminating federal workforce and education programs, and yet the President has touted the importance of job training as recently as his State of the Union a few weeks ago and proposed a renewed focus on expanding apprenticeship in his infrastructure principles released just this morning.

NSC continues to advocate for adequate investment in key workforce and education programs and the consistent inconsistency from the administration only reinforces the importance of weighing in with your policy makers to ensure they understand how vital workforce and education programs are to your communities, your work, and the President’s priorities.

Department of Labor. Overall, the President’s budget calls for $9.4 billion in funding for DOL, a cut of 21 percent relative to current funding levels. While recognizing the millions of workers in need of training and openings with U.S. businesses, the budget frames these cuts in the context of an effort to “consolidate and reorganize Federal workforce development programs.”

 The request calls for cuts of approximately $1.08 billion across the three state formula grants under Title I of WIOA. The formula funding levels in the request represent about a 40 percent cut, which NSC and Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce have detailed would a devastating impact on local areas provision of WIOA funded services. These cuts are exacerbated by other cuts proposed in the request – the administration would eliminate the Indian and Native Americans national grant program, the Senior Community Services Employment Program (SCSEP), the Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker program, and Workforce Data Quality Initiative grants. The administration would direct the Secretary of Labor to set aside 1.5 percent of WIOA adult formula funds to support Indian and Native American programs and justifies the elimination of SCSEP because adults served under that program could be eligible for programming funded by WIOA adult formula dollars.

The administration requested a nearly 40 percent cut to the Wagner-Peyser Employment Service under WIOA Title III, and proposes refocusing Job Corps programs on older youth.

Despite their overall reduction in requests for workforce funding, the administration continued their focus on apprenticeship requesting $200 million for expansion of the new “Industry-Recognized” apprenticeship program created by the President’s Executive Order last summer, specifically to health care, information technology, and advanced manufacturing jobs.

The budget request includes full funding at authorized levels ($450,000,000) for the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) Training program, proposing a legislative adjustment that would “refocus” TAA training on apprenticeship and work-based learning strategies.

The budget request also includes $130 million in funding for Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessments (RESEA), consistent with an extension of the program included as part of the February 9th bipartisan budget agreement.

Department of Education. Under the President’s proposed budget, The Department of Education is funded at $59.9 billion—which equals an $8 billion or 12% overall reduction from the 2018 annualized Continuing Resolution (CR) level. This request includes the cancellation of $1.6 billion in unobligated balances in the Pell Grant program, although the FY’19 addendum would not include this rescission.

Higher Education Act:

Pell Grants – Under the President’s budget, discretionary funding for Pell grants is maintained at a level of $22.5 billion. Combined with mandatory funding, the maximum award for FY’19 stands at $5,920 per-student, per-year. While the budget contains no financial changes to the Pell grant program, it does propose expanding Pell eligibility to high-quality, short-term programs that provide students with a credential, certification or license in an in-demand field. This suggested policy change is in line with the Higher Education Act reauthorization principles released by the White house late last year.

NSC has consistently advocated for the extension of Pell eligibility to short-term programs that are proven to be rigorous and of high-quality. This priority is reflected in our Skills For Good Jobs Agenda  and is embodied in Congress by the JOBS Act—bipartisan legislation introduced by Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH). Although the President’s budget does not contain specific policy guidelines, NSC is encouraged by the push to make postsecondary education more accessible for all students.

Federal Work Study – The budget contains a significant 75% cut to the Federal Work Study (FWS) program. The request justifies this substantial decrease by proposing to dramatically reform the FWS to support workforce and career-oriented training opportunities for low-income undergraduate students rather than “subsidizing employment as a means of financial aid.” This provision is consistent with the reforms made to the FWS program in the House proposed PROSPER Act, which would reauthorize the Higher Education Act if signed into law. The PROSPER Act, however, contained a $6 million increase for the program.

Adult Education: Notably, the President’s budget proposes a 15% cut to adult education state grants which are authorized under WIOA Title II—a number that is consistent with last year’s suggested cuts. These grants help provide foundational skills and English literacy instruction to over 1.5 million individuals. If enacted, these cuts would be detrimental to individuals in need of foundational skills to succeed in our 21st century workforce.

Career and Technical Education (CTE): In stark contrast to the President’s 2018 budget request which proposed a 15% cut to CTE state grants, his 2019 proposal contains level funding ($1.1 billion) for CTE—and refers to this funding as an important component of the President’s job creation agenda.

The budget proposes a range of program eliminations under the Education Department, most notable the elimination of the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (SEOG) which support low-income postsecondary students, and the cancellation of the State Longitudinal Data Systems grants that support state investments in educational data alignment.

Department of Health and Human Services

The Administration’s budget proposal for Health and Human Services proposes legislative changes to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program that would result in cuts to the current block grant program of about ten percent relative to current levels (from $16.3 to $15.1 billion) and would eliminate the TANF contingency fund, resulting in combined cuts of about $10 billion between 2019-2023. However, the budget also includes some proposals that may help to support better connections to education and training, including a proposed requirement that states spend at least 30 percent of combined federal and state funds on work, education, and training activities; work supports, including child care; and assessment/service provision for TANF eligible families. The budget also proposes to replace the current caseload reduction credit with an “employment credit” that rewards states for placing individuals in work; eliminating the separate two-parent work participation rate; and allowing states to count individuals who do not meet the monthly work participation requirements to count for partial credit towards a state’s overall requirements. It is unclear whether Congress will seriously consider changes to TANF this year, but this language does appear to be consistent with a broader Administration focus on expanding work requirements for low-income individuals on public assistance.

Department of Agriculture

Unlike last year, the President’s budget does not include proposals to shift a significant percentage of overall costs for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) onto states. However, the budget does propose some legislative changes to SNAP, including restricting state waivers for time restrictions on Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents (ABAWDs) to counties with at least ten percent unemployment; eliminating the “15 percent” exemption that allows states to exempt certain ABAWDs from time limits; and a proposal to convert part of the SNAP allotment from electronic benefits into USDA “Food Packages.” The budget would cut overall funding for SNAP by more than $200 billion over the next ten years if all proposed changes were enacted.

National Skills Coalition strongly opposes the cuts to workforce, education, and human services programs proposed in the FY 2019 Presidential Budget Request. At a time when U.S. businesses continually cite to the need for skilled workers to compete in a global economy – and when millions of workers need training to reach these skill levels and get and keep family-supporting jobs – we must invest in vital workforce, education and human services programs. Disinvestment harms our local communities, businesses and workers. NSC calls on Congress to reject the President’s proposals and continue our bipartisan commitment to investment in skills. 



FY 2019 – Authorized Levels

Current Levels – FY 2017 Omnibus

FY 2019 Presidential Budget Request

Change from Current – 2019 Budget Request

Department of Labor

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Title I – State Formula Grants





WIOA Adult





WIOA Dislocated Worker






WIOA Youth





Wagner-Peyser/Employment Service Grants






Workforce Data Quality Initiative Grants





Apprenticeship Grants





DW National Reserve





Native American Programs





Ex-Offender Activities





Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers










Senior Community Service Employment Program


$433, 535,000


-$433, 535, 000

Trade Adjustment Assistance





Department of Education

Career and Technical Education State Grants





Adult Education and Family Literacy State Grants






Federal Work Study





*Actual outlays for TAA for 2017 were $391,419,000. The program is authorized for up to $450,000,000 and the 2019 Presidential Budget Request includes funding up to the authorized level.

Posted In: Federal Funding, Career and Technical Education, SNAP Employment and Training, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Higher Education Access, Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce

Administration issues letter encouraging Medicaid work requirements

  ·   By Kermit Kaleba,
Administration issues letter encouraging Medicaid work requirements

Early today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a letter to state Medicaid directors encouraging states to consider imposing new work requirements on Medicaid recipients as a condition of eligibility or continued coverage under the program.

As outlined in the guidance letter, states are able to apply for “demonstration” waivers to federal Medicaid requirements that incentive work and community engagement for “non-elderly, non-pregnant adult Medicaid beneficiaries who are eligible for Medicaid on a basis other than disability.” The guidance follows a March 2017 letter to state governors that encouraged submission of waiver requests for a range of purposes, including the imposition of work or community engagement requirements. At least seven states have already submitted waiver requests relating to work requirements under the terms of the March guidance letter; none of these state requests have been approved, but it is expected that a request from Kentucky may be approved as early as this week.

The new guidance provides additional detail on considerations for states in developing and submitting waiver request relating to work. State requests should be intended to promote better mental, physical, and emotional health for Medicaid recipients, and may also have a goal of promoting poverty reduction for individuals and families. States have the flexibility to determine what activities other than employment can count for purposes of eligibility, including community service, caregiving, education, job training, and substance use disorder treatment. The guidance encourages states to consider aligning Medicaid work requirements with state work requirements under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and notes that individuals who are compliant with work requirements under those programs must automatically be considered compliant with Medicaid requirements. States will not be permitted to use Medicaid funds to support employment or other work activities.

National Skills Coalition has long expressed concerns about work requirements under the TANF and SNAP programs, noting that there is little evidence that such requirements are effective at reducing poverty or promoting long-term, stable employment. While the inclusion of education and job training in the list of allowable activities is helpful, NSC cautions that absent sufficient resources and safeguards, expanding work requirements for vulnerable populations is likely to reduce access to critical health services without providing meaningful opportunities for career advancement. NSC will work with our new Welfare to Careers National Advisory panel and national partners to monitor state efforts in response to this guidance, and continue to advocate for more effective – and less potentially harmful - strategies to help low-income individuals transition into family-supporting jobs. 

Posted In: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, SNAP Employment and Training

House passed TANF subsidized jobs bill

  ·   By Katie Spiker,
House passed TANF subsidized jobs bill

On June 23rd, the House passed the Accelerating Individuals into the Workforce Act (HR 2842) by vote of 377-34. The bill was introduced by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Danny Davis (D-IL), and would allocate $100 million under the current Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) contingency fund for demonstration grants to support subsidized jobs programs. At least one of the demonstration projects supported by the grants would need to fund registered apprenticeship programs, and the bill requires that fifteen percent of the overall funding be reserved for career pathways programs as defined by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

More than 80 percent of today’s jobs require postsecondary education and training, but less than 10 percent of adult TANF recipients have education beyond high school. Despite these barriers, less than 7 percent of combined federal and state TANF spending goes to work, education and training programs. 

Under current law, TANF funds can be used by states to subsidize TANF recipient’s wages; however less than 1 percent of total TANF spending is used on subsidized jobs programs. The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) also provided an additional $5 billion in funding to supplement states’ TANF spending on subsidized jobs, though that funding expired after Fiscal Year (FY) 2010. These programs can be successful if they connect participants to training and upskilling opportunities, like those available in apprenticeship programs and when built into career pathways programs.

The bill is consistent with NSC’s recommendations for TANF reauthorization,  including recognizing the importance of investing in training opportunities for TANF recipients, a population and an activity drastically underfunded in the current TANF system. In addition to targeting existing funding, Congress should increase TANF funding to keep pace with historic levels of investment and dedicate new resources for proven strategies like industry partnerships and career pathways.

Posted In: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
« Show Older Posts