On July 16, National Skills Coalition, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Seattle Jobs Initiative (SJI) hosted representatives from 11 states interested in developing, strengthening or expanding Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Employment and Training (E&T) programs in their states. The meeting drew from best practices and lessons learned from Washington State’s highly successful Basic Food Employment and Training (BFET) program.
During the meeting, staff from National Skills Coalition, SJI, and Washington State’s Department of Social and Health Services and State Board for Community and Technical Colleges led an extensive conversation about how other states might think about building a skills-based E&T program. SNAP E&T funds a number of activities, including light-touch activities such as job search, and more intensive activities, like education and training. Ultimately, however, light-touch activities tend to be less effective for SNAP participants, who often face multiple barriers to stable, family-supporting employment and may need skills training to address their employment needs and boost their earnings. Meeting participants worked through step-by-step how Washington State built a skills-based program that has been able to connect SNAP recipients with meaningful education and training opportunities, enabling them to obtain industry-recognized credentials that hold real value in the labor market.
Speakers emphasized the importance of collaboration across programs and providers in building skills-based E&T programs. Through strategic partnerships and collaboration across agencies and providers, Washington State’s BFET program has brought together a range of stakeholders, including the state SNAP agency, the public workforce system, community colleges, community-based organizations, supportive service providers, and other entities to deliver SNAP E&T activities and services. A key message to states on collaboration was that SNAP E&T programs should not be carried out by the state SNAP agency alone – but rather should be built in partnership with the workforce development system and should capitalize on existing workforce capacity in the state.
Speakers also stressed that states interested in expanding their SNAP E&T programs should make use of all of the resources available under the SNAP E&T program. The primary funding source for the BFET program, for instance, is “50-50 funds,” funding that is available to states on top of the SNAP E&T formula funding they receive. These funds are allocated by the Food and Nutrition Service, which oversees the SNAP E&T program, for administrative costs and E&T participant expenses directly related to participation in the program, such as dependent care costs, transportation, safety equipment, and supplies and books. Presently, too few states take advantage of the 50-50 funds (which are not capped). Speakers urged states to use 50-50 funds to expand their programs to build skills-based E&T programs that increase opportunities for SNAP E&T participants.
The 2014 Farm Bill, which authorizes SNAP E&T, made several critical improvements to the SNAP E&T program, including providing increased funding for SNAP E&T, introducing new monitoring and reporting requirements, and establishing pilot grants to test innovative strategies to improve employment outcomes for individuals on SNAP. These important changes to SNAP represent an opportunity for states that previously may not have taken full advantage of the SNAP E&T program, to pursue new strategies to help SNAP recipients move into stable employment, and ultimately, move off of SNAP. NSC recently hosted a webinar explaining the major changes made to SNAP E&T under the Farm Bill, and highlighting opportunities for states to expand their E&T programs.
FNS will award pilot grants up to ten states to receive additional funding to test E&T strategies designed to enable more SNAP participants to obtain unsubsidized employment, raise SNAP participants’ earnings, and reduce their reliance on public assistance. The types of E&T programs states could operate includes any existing SNAP E&T components and services, as well as work and education and training programs allowed under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. FNS will release a request for application (RFA) package in August, and pilot grants will be awarded in January 2015.
As states move forward with expanding their E&T programs, NSC will provide guidance and assistance on how education and training can be better integrated into E&T. Visit our SNAP E&T page for more resources.