Access to Work Supports : Project EARN, San Diego, a Work Advancement and Support Center (WASC) Demonstration Site
Program/Practice Name:Project EARN, San Diego, a Work Advancement and Support Center (WASC) Demonstration Site
Agency Name: South County Career Center, a division of the San Diego Workforce Partnership, Inc.
South County Career Center
1111 Bay Boulevard, Suite E
Chula Vista, CA 91911
Phone: (619) 628-0312
Fax: (619) 429-9524
San Diego Workforce Partnership
3910 University Avenue, Suite 400
San Diego, CA 92105-1326
Phone: (619) 228-2900
Fax: (619) 528-1423
Assistant Deputy Director
County of San Diego Health & Human Services
Strategic Planning & Operational Support
Phone: (619) 515-6538
Type of Program/Practice: A collaborative effort offering job retention strategies and advancement services to enable workers to make informed choices about employment and benefits.
Program/Practice Description:Project EARN, San Diego was a partnership among the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA), the South County Career Center, San Diego Workforce Partnership, and social policy research firm MDRC, and was designed to support low-wage workers in job retention and advancement. The demonstration program stemmed from the national study of the Work Advancement and Support Center (WASC) model, which uses the Income Calculator. Project EARN consisted of two parts: enhancing job retention and career advancement services for low-wage workers and building on federal and State income security policies that seek to engage low-wage workers in work support programs, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and Food Stamps, which can help increase the income of low-wage workers. Through technology and career coaching, the program not only provided access to these financial supports, but also helped low-wage workers advance in their current jobs.
The WASC demonstration project has concluded and the Project EARN, San Diego program has ended. To learn more about the findings of MDRC, visit: http://www.mdrc.org/publications/519/overview.html
Innovations and Results: The WASC program was established in one of San Diego's One-Stop Career Centers, which was created under the federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998 to help low-income workers find jobs. This agency tended to work in isolation from the closely related HHSA, which administers the TANF program and also works with clients to help them find employment. The WASC program represented one of the first programs to combine the efforts of the two distinct agencies, and co-located several HHSA staff on One-Stop property. MDRC research on the 2004 pilot indicated that both employers and human services staff responded positively to WASC efforts to identify advancement opportunities for clients. About 65 percent of clients showed advancement over three months.
Operations: The program recruited low-wage workers through numerous outreach media (mailings, advertisements, phone calls, and contact through colleges and universities), and then conducted a pre-screening to determine whether they meet the program criteria of being under 200 percent of the poverty level, are legal residents, and are working at least part-time. If a client met eligibility requirements, the client was assigned randomly to either a control group or treatment group. The latter group then received information and one-on-one counseling to determine their current situation and how they might advance within their jobs. After the initial meeting, which was scheduled immediately or at a later date, the case manager monitored test cases through follow-up calls, initiating about one contact per month, and completed tracking forms. WASC had a planned system of incentives to encourage clients to advance in their work; for example, if they participated in GED training, they could receive $20 grocery cards by demonstrating successful performance. In monitoring, case managers considered an increase of $0.50 per hour as advancement; the program tended to see evidence of these advances after six to nine months of participation, and most showed progress within a year.
Funding: The WASC program describes itself as very labor intensive and thus expensive. In fact, funding was the biggest challenge that the center faced when initiating the program. Although the initial plan was to write grants to support the center, with a large portion of monies intended to come from Department of Labor Title I and WIA funding, the plan fell through. When only $125,000 of an anticipated $500,000 was received, the One-Stop asked for a waiver to access discretionary funding, but was turned down. Thereafter, the program changed the enrollment process to co-enroll clients in WIA as well as Project EARN, so it was able to leverage WIA funding. However, this proved to be a difficult application process and ultimately it was the center's partnership with HHSA that led to necessary funding. The budget, which previously dedicated a large sum of money to child care, was redrawn to shift money to core programming, as not all clients had children.
Staffing: The program included one county clerk and five workforce coaches. The coaches handled a sizable caseload, so the program chose experienced case managers who have demonstrated high performance. Case managers must be flexible thinkers to handle the complexity of WASC supports and must make themselves available at irregular hours to ensure a connection with clients, who also are working individuals. Staff participated in introductory training on the software and study procedures prior to beginning the program.
Tips to Implementation: San Diego's implementation of Project EARN depended largely on the successful coordination of the One-Stop Career Center and the Department of Health and Human Services. It required that staff be co-located, flexible, and well trained, and that they remained in constant communication. Additionally, the program succeeded because of dedicated individuals who were able to think creatively to overcome hurdles such as insufficient funding and challenges in conducting outreach.
Keys to Success: Project EARN, San Diego leveraged the WASC Income Calculator, which performed three functions:
- Quantifies changes in income that would result from increases in earnings through both wages and work supports.
- Identifies eligibility "cliffs" that may affect a client's receipt of work supports.
- Synthesizes a client's financial picture, taking into consideration changes in work supports, taxes, and work-related expenses.
The following tools are associated with Project EARN, San Diego, a Work Advancement and Support Center (WASC) Demonstration Site. Please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about these tools.
Pre-Screening Questions for Random Assignment
WASC Baseline Information Form
Project EARN Income Calculator
ESL Incentives Flyer
Project EARN Income Improvement and Advancement Plan
Project EARN Meeting Outline
Project Earn Participant Packet
Coaching for Advancement: Information Gathering Questionnaires
Overview of Project Earn
Strategies to Help Low-Wage Workers Advance: Implementation and Early Impacts of the Work Advancement and Support Center (WASC) Demonstration: http://www.mdrc.org/publications/519/overview.html