Diversion : Diversionary Work Program

Program/Practice Name: Diversionary Work Program (DWP)

Agency Name: Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department

Contact Information:

John Mbali
Program Manager
Eligibility Determination
Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department
Century Plaza
1111 South 3rd Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55404
Phone: (612) 348-8188

Type of Program/Practice: DWP is a 4-month program that provides assistance to eligible families to help them go to work rather than go on welfare.

Program/Practice Description: In 2003, the Minnesota State Legislature established this short-term, work-focused program. DWP provides front-end employment services designed to move participants directly to work and divert families from applying for the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), the State Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Approximately half of the families that apply for cash assistance participate in DWP. The primary goal of DWP is to provide short-term benefits and intensive work supports to increase families’ self-sufficiency. Additionally, DWP looks to quickly identify and address barriers that may hinder a participant’s job prospects. Parents are expected to develop and sign an employment plan prior to program acceptance. After the plan has been signed, they receive financial assistance as well as other supports such as Food Stamps, child care, health care, and all the benefits they would have been entitled to under MFIP. A family can receive DWP for at most 4 months over a 12-month period. These 4 months do not count toward the 60-month TANF lifetime limit. Following the 4 months, if a family has not secured employment, they have to apply to be transferred to MFIP. Participants unlikely to benefit from DWP are referred to MFIP and their grant award is adjusted accordingly.

Innovations and Results: DWP is a system-wide diversion program. By providing intensive job search and work supports, the 4-month program encourages eligible families to work instead of go on welfare. The expectation of the program is that it is interactive and clients are not simply collecting cash assistance. By connecting them to work while concurrently meeting their other basic needs, DWP better equips clients as they strive to become self-sufficient.

Operations: In what can amount to a 4-6 hour process, potential clients complete a screening form, and if qualified, are sent to the DWP team. Clients then complete and discuss the application with a human services representative (HSR). At this point, clients also receive an orientation to DWP. HSR workers spend about an hour and a half with each client reviewing the documents they need and preparing a check list for each client to assist in verification. After verifications are completed, clients are referred to and meet with an employment service provider (ESP) within 10 days of being found eligible.

There are five ESPs across Hennepin County; four are under contract through the vocational rehabilitation nonprofit, Employment Action Center. An ESP case manager works with the client to develop an employment plan. This plan is work-focused and requires a minimum of 35 hours be spent on either work or work search. An assessment of the individual is completed by the employment specialist and the plan addresses these identified strengths and needs, such as ESL training. The specialist also immediately connects the client to such necessary services as transportation and child care.

During the program, clients attend job club, participating in a highly structured environment centered on connecting to work. In addition, they attend workshops, develop resumes and applications, and practice interviewing skills. Classroom instruction also allows individuals to share concerns, provide support, and exchange job opportunities, in addition to learning important skills. ESPs provide access to computer labs where clients can search and apply for jobs. Clients are required to complete a detailed activity log to track how they spend their time. Clients also receive transportation vouchers to help them attend classes and job interviews, as well as a small amount in program funds to purchase interview clothes or tools for the job.

Additional Information: Once a plan is signed, benefits are issued within one business day and are based on the size of the family, the family’s needs, and countable income. Families enrolled in DWP are eligible for government supports, with the program providing assistance with rent and utilities. These expenses are vendor paid, with a maximum award of $437 for a family of two. Once a DWP grant amount is determined, increases in income generally will not decrease the amount of the benefit. The family also is given child care assistance and a personal needs allowance of up to $70 if there are residual funds. Families must cooperate with their employment plan and child support requirements. If they do not, their case will be closed and they will not be eligible for any other cash programs until their four months of DWP time has expired. However, disqualification does not affect the participant’s food support or health care benefits.

Tips to Implementation: The philosophy of the program is for clients to succeed; specifically, to obtain a job and be able to support themselves and their families without relying on public assistance. During orientation, HSR workers stress that clients will receive help with basic needs and securing employment, emphasizing what this additional assistance can do in terms of the monthly budget. Many clients are there because of job loss and are struggling to make ends meet while relying on savings and are encouraged by this approach. Additionally, the one-on-one attention from both the HSR and the ESP reinforces the work-first message and shows the commitment they have to connecting clients to work.

Keys to Success: Coordination between HSRs and ESPs has improved dramatically. As opposed to meeting within 30 days as required under the TANF legislation, clients now meet with their employment specialist within 10 days. Although this is mandated within the statute, it is facilitated by the fact that the HSR schedules the appointment, sometimes while the client is still in the office. Additionally, both departments share the same case management system, TEAMS, allowing them to share issues about the client directly through the case file.

Successes: Since July 2004, an average of 500 families have applied for DWP each month.

  • Four hundred of these families meet with an employment counselor to develop an employment plan.
  • Within the 4-month program, 58 percent of families begin employment, with an average wage of $10.52 per hour.
  • Approximately 42 percent of all families that leave DWP after the 4 months are diverted from applying for MFIP.

Challenges: Because DWP clients are not enrolled in the State’s TANF program, their work participation is not counted in the State’s rate in either the numerator or the denominator. In addition, the 32 vendors that work with the MFIP population have raised the concern that DWP is “creaming off” those who are ready and able to work, leaving those with greater barriers. However, given the reduced rolls, they likely have additional time to work with these clients one on one.

  • A number of pregnant women enroll in DWP. As they are not eligible for MFIP, the employment specialist must help connect them to activities that are appropriate and will help them prepare for life after the birth of their child, such as parent education classes and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
  • In some cases, 4 months does not seem to be enough time to connect a client to work. Some clients and staff think there would be increased benefits with a 6-month program. At times, it is difficult to obtain all the verification documents necessary for a referral to the ESP. This is especially true for securing out-of-state birth certificates. Also, sanctions can play a significant role, as it may be difficult for a client to get back into compliance given the relatively short time limit of the program.

The following tools are associated with Diversionary Work Program.  Please send us an email at upitoolkit@icfi.com for more information about these tools.

DWP New Staff Training PowerPoint   

DWP/MFIP Screening Questions   

DWP Employment Service Providers   

DWP/MFIP Screening Questions   

Facts on Voluntarily Quitting Your Job If You Are on Food Support   

Hennepin Human Services and Public Health Department General Information   

Medical Assistance May Pay for Insurance Through Your Employer   

Minnesota Department of Human Services Domestic Violence Information   

Self-Administered Alcohol and Drug Screening Test   

Activity Log   

DWP Allowable Work Activities   

DWP Child Care Questions and Answers  

DWP Important Questions and Answers   

DWP Self-Appraisal Form   

DWP Two-Parent Household Questions and Answers  

DWP Unlikely to Benefit/Excluded Form   

Good Cause Reasons for Not Cooperating with Employment Services   

MFIP/DWP Employment Plan

The following packets are given to clients when they meet with an HSR and an ESP respectively:

Human Services Packet 

Employment Services Packet