The new era of welfare reform emphasizing the movement from welfare to work began in 1996 with the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). The PRWORA abolished entitlements to public assistance, created Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and gave primary responsibility to the states to develop new methods of encouraging welfare recipients to work.
Community Jobs (CJ), a component of WorkFirst, Washington State’s welfare reform, sets a precedent as the first and still the largest wage based public job creation program for “hard-to employ” TANF recipients. The typical CJ participant is 30 years old, does not have a high school degree, is dealing with many personal issues such as domestic violence and lack of transportation, and has churned through the labor market holding past jobs for short lengths of time. In CJ, participants work 20 hours a week, earn a paycheck for hours worked and receive one-on-one support and mentoring to resolve barriers to work. Program participants work in CJ up to nine months. CJ is intended to provide valuable work experience and training to move individuals out of poverty, create public jobs, and benefit communities. The Office of Trade and Economic Development (OTED) first implemented CJ in June 1998.
The Economic Opportunity Institute and the Northwest Policy Center began collaborating on a program outcomes assessment and evaluation in January 2000 to understand this unique program’s progress toward achieving its goals. Unemployment insurance (UI) wage data was collected to assess employment, job retention, and wage progression for individuals leaving the Community Jobs program. Surveys and focus group data were collected to evaluate the quality and performance of the most significant components of CJ through feedback from key stakeholders: program participants, CJ contractors, DSHS case managers, and worksite supervisors.