Job Search and Placement : Mississippi TANF Work Program

Program/Practice Name: Mississippi TANF Work Program

Agency Name: Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS), Division of Economic Assistance

Contact Information:

Mississippi Department of Human Services
750 North State Street 
Jackson, MS 39202
www.mdhs.state.ms.us

John Davis 
Director of Economic Assistance
Division of Economic Assistance
Phone: (601) 359-4810

Type of Program/Practice: The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program, administered by MDHS, provides benefits for needy families with children under age 18 without regard to race, creed, or national origin.

Program/Practice Description: "A request for assistance in the State of Mississippi is a request for help in findingand keeping a job." The goal of the TANF Work Program is to end dependence on public assistance by preparing TANF recipients for a job by helping them with job readiness training, job skills training, vocational training, other educational training programs, and assisting them in finding and keeping a job.

All adult recipients included in TANF grants who are not exempt are required to participate in the TANF Work Program. The TANF Work Program provides orientation about work program requirements, helps determine individual skills and abilities to secure and keep a job, and assists individuals in determining their employment goals and developing an Employability Development Plan (EDP). The EDP describes the employment goal and provides the means to achieve the goal by giving TANF Work Program participants a chance to learn new skills and receive training so they and their families can become self–sufficient. The TANF Work Program helps individuals make decisions and solve problems, removes participation barriers, and provides supportive services, when needed, during participation.

Background/Program History: The TANF Work Program was implemented with the new TANF regulations in 1996 and was fully operational by July 1997. Mississippi had to change very little when implementing the TANF Work Program due to its predecessor Work First being very similar in scope and requirements.

In addition, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between MDHS and the State Board for Community and Junior Colleges (SBCJC) established guidelines for the work to be performed by MDHS and SBCJC for the assessment, enrollment, certification, follow–up, and performance standards as they relate to short-term career–related training programs for TANF Work Program participants.

Training is based on employer needs in a particular area of the State and on an individual's career goals and objectives, in conjunction with employer needs. Training is established through cooperative agreements with local community and junior colleges to provide employer certification/readiness training.

Training can be initiated by MDHS and SBCJC. MDHS determines employment and training needs through MDHS State/region/county staff's assessment of employers. Training needs also can be identified by SBCJC through community colleges and furnished to MDHS.

Innovations and Results: A subprogram of Mississippi's TANF Work Program is the Upfront Job Search, which refers TANF applicants directly to a case manager once the initial paperwork has been completed. During the 30–day TANF application processing period and before the TANF application is approved, the applicant attends a mini job readiness class that includes employment skill building related to interviews and resumes. The applicant then completes the TANF Work Program intake process, meets with a WIN Job Center counselor, and actively looks for a job. Many applicants are able to find jobs at this time. If this happens, they may choose to have their earned income disregarded for 3 months. If they choose to receive the earned income disregard, they receive their paychecks, TANF benefits, and TANF supportive services (child care and transportation). Once approved, recipients who maintain employment and have TANF benefits terminated due to finding employment may continue to receive TANF transitional work–related supportive services for a specified period of time. The Mississippi TANF Work Program also provides a job retention bonus for employed individuals who work an average of 30 hours or more per week. Job retention bonuses can pay up to $3,000 over 24 months and are distributed in 5 payments.

Number of Days EmployedAmount of Bonus90$200180$400270$600460$800730$1000

The Mississippi TANF Work Program has four different direct staff categories. The TANF eligibility worker/case manager determines the applicant's eligibility for TANF benefits and whether the applicant qualifies to participate in the TANF Work Program. The case manager works with eligible TANF recipients to develop EDPs, makes appropriate activity assignments, and assists with TANF work–related supportive services. Case managers are trained to calculate their own individual work participation rates. This enables them to stay abreast of their caseload status from month to month, as case managers must be conscientious about the time period for which TANF assistance is allowed. Participant attendance data are monitored on a week–to–week basis, enabling case managers to plan and make adjustments, when necessary, to make up missed hours before the end of the report month.

The job readiness trainer helps prepare participants for work by providing training on topics such as workplace expectations, interviewing skills, attitude, appropriate dress, hygiene, grooming, money management, and shopping. The employment coordinator assists with job search activities, job development, job placement, and job retention. The employment coordinator's duties include recruiting employers (marketing the program and participants), matching participants with available jobs, coaching/counseling newly employed participants, following up post–employment (employer and employee) to eliminate problems, identifying employer training needs, and initiating employer–specific training programs.

Funding: The program relies on Federal and State funding in order to provide services.

Staffing: Mississippi is organized into four economic assistance regions. Each region has a regional director that is overseen by a field operations director. Each county in a region has at least one case manager, with larger counties having multiple case managers. Regional directors oversee the operations of the various counties within their region. The State has 21 program specialists that monitor the counties' TANF program and provide hands–on programmatic and technical assistance to the case managers when needed. Program specialists also assist in making contact and building relationships with employers. The case managers work directly with participants to track their activity and progress and refer them for, or authorize, TANF work–related supportive services. When participants go “off track”, case managers counsel the participants to resolve problems, if possible, before imposing timed penalties for noncompliance.

Tips to Implementation: Staff training, regional and State office monitoring, and collaboration with other agencies are key factors in implementing and operating a program of this nature.

Keys to Success: A big key to the program's success is that case management is performed by MDHS. Case managers assist clients through the TANF Work Program participation process. Another key to success is continuously educating and training staff, which ensures that everyone from the direct line staff to administrators understands the program's policies, procedures, and requirements.

Successes: The main success is being able to keep a hands-on approach with all participants, which has helped the program not only reach but also exceed the federally mandated work participation rate.

Challenges: The TANF Work Program is supported by two online computer systems. The MAVERICS system is used to determine TANF eligibility and the JAWS system supports the TANF Work Program. A big challenge this program faced when implementing the TANF Work Program was programming the two computer systems to interface and designing the JAWS system to track participants and produce reports to support county, regional, and State staff. Another challenge was the direct line staff's mindset about the program; they no longer were running an entitlement program. The administrative staff needed to explain that TANF time limits and work program restrictions were federally mandated and not changed just at the State level. Another challenge facing the State's implementation was the advocates' concern that the State would begin to close cases without considering the well-being of recipients and their families. The State accepted the advocates' challenge and helped them overcome their fears by offering programs and work-related supportive services to help families transition from welfare to work.

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

Bulletin 6086

This official document provides details for processing and registering a TANF application in Mississippi.

TANF Work Program Services Brochure

Provides an overview of the supportive services provided by Mississippi's TANF Work Program.