Choices is the employment and training program serving applicants and former recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance. Local Workforce Development Boards administer the Choices program, developing service strategies that enable individuals to find and retain employment and upgrade skills in order to move up the economic ladder. Choices is operated under a Work First service model. From the point of application for cash assistance (at the Texas Department of Human Services), throughout delivery of benefits and employment services (through the Local Workforce Development Boards), a consistent message is delivered and enforced:
- Government Assistance is intended to be temporary.
- Texans are responsible for the support of themselves and their families.
- Work is the goal!
Both state and federal welfare reform legislation emphasize personal responsibility, time-limited cash assistance benefits, and the goal of work instead of welfare. To support these philosophies the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) and the Local Workforce Development Boards have developed a service delivery model with primary emphasis on the goal of employment at the earliest opportunity for applicants and recipients of cash assistance.
The ‘Work First’ service delivery model is designed to:
- Offer TANF applicants and recipients quick exposure to the labor market.
- Provide support services and one-time assistance that will facilitate the transition to employment.
- Provide services necessary to meet employer requirements in local labor markets.
The Work First model includes both job readiness activities and immediate directed job search, including job referrals and job development services.
Workforce Orientation for Applicants
Applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are required to attend a Workforce Orientation for Applicants as a condition of eligibility, unless they meet one of several defined exceptions, in order to connect people to employment opportunties and generate interest in the services that lead to employment.
The key concepts delivered in the Orientation are:
- Advantage/importance of work,
- Scope of workforce services and resources available through Local Workforce Development Area career centers,
- Cash assistance as a time-limited benefit, and
- Personal responsibility to provide for self and family.
The goal of the WOA is to:
- Reduce the cash assistance (TANF) rolls by increasing the number of people entering employment prior to and immediately following certification for receiving of TANF.
- Expand applicants knowledge of services available to them and their families in workforce centers.
- Reduce the time between TANF certification and participation in TANF employment services, for people who choose to continue with application for cash assistance.
Employment Planning Session
At the end of the Workforce Orientation, applicants are provided with a written appointment letter/notice for an Employment Planning Session. The Employment Planning Session is an introduction to the Choices program for certified recipients of cash assistance to begin assessment and employability planning to move them from welfare to work.
The purpose of the Employment Planning Session is to begin assessment and employability planning that will assist individuals to obtain employment. In general, recipients will be expected to begin participation in work activities (30 hours minimum for single parents, 35 hours for two-parent families) immediately after the Employment Planning Session. Participation for most recipients will be job readiness and job search as a means of “testing the labor market” and locating employment at the earliest opportunity.
Choices, Employment Services for TANF Recipients
Employment services for TANF recipients will give priority to unsubsidized employment appropriate to each individual’s educational and functional literacy level. If unsubsidized employment is not obtained, other work experience and educational activities designed to provide recipients with the skills necessary for employment in a local area will be considered in service planning. Services will vary based upon local service strategies.
Job Readiness activities include but are not limited to the following:
- Labor market information
- Master job application
- Cover letters
- Job interviews
- Job search skills
- Employment goal setting
- Job inquiry follow-up
- Job search planning
- Job-keeping skills
- Self-esteem building
TANF recipients participate in a structured job search, with the goal of unsubsidized employment at the earliest opportunity. Recipients are responsible for making a designated number of employer contacts per week. In addition, workforce staff make job referrals and conduct job development activities to assist recipients in their job search.
Other Employment Preparation:
In the event a recipient is unable to locate employment within a reasonable time frame, workforce staff may determine that additional services are needed to prepare the recipient for employment.
Short-term employment preparation activities may include:
- Job skills training
- Subsidized employment
- On-the-Job training (OJT)
- Work based training
- Self-employment assistance
Active participation by TANF recipients in the Choices program is required. Failure to participate in work activities, without good cause, will result in immediate sanction/penalty for all non-exempt recipients. Support services including child care, transportation, and work-related expenses are available, as needed, to assist recipients in going to work.
Employment Retention and Re-employment Services
Employment retention and re-employment services may be made available, upon request, to assist an individual to remain employed or to locate another job. Services may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Assistance and support for the transition to employment through direct services or referrals to resources available in the area.
- Child care, through transitional child care or other resources, if needed.
- Work-related expenses.
- Transportation necessary for a period of time to allow a participant who loses employment to engage in short-term, supported job search or related activities.
- Job readiness services and assisted intensive job search to help a participant who loses employment to find another job as quickly as possible.
- Job placement and job development services to help a participant who loses employment find another job as quickly as possible.
- Referrals to available education and training resources, as needed, to increase an employed participant’s skills or to help the participant qualify for advancement and longer-term employment.