The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission received a briefing from its staff earlier in the month on the results of a study of the effectiveness of Virginia’s self-sufficiency programs, and the related issue of the availability and affordability of child care. JLARC staff reviewed the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), with a particular focus on the employment-related elements of these programs, the Virginia Initiative for Education and Work (VIEW) and SNAP Employment and Training (SNAP E&T), respectively. Most TANF recipients must participate in VIEW, while SNAP E&T is a voluntary program for SNAP recipients that is offered by 37 local departments of social services.
JLARC staff found that VIEW and SNAP E&T clients made only limited progress toward self-sufficiency; while approximately half of VIEW and SNAP E&T clients had higher wages in 2022 than in 2018, only a small portion of these individuals earned wages meeting or exceeding the self-sufficiency standard (a threshold developed by the University of Washington). JLARC staff reported that the social services system and the workforce development system are not well coordinated, resulting in fewer than 2 percent of TANF and SNAP clients in the cohort studied by JLARC participating in the state’s workforce development system. Collaboration at the local level between social services departments and workforce development programs varies, with some local departments included in memoranda of understanding with workforce development boards and others relying on informal collaborations.
JLARC staff found that local department of social services staff are limited in their ability to provide adequate case management to clients due to high caseloads, high turnover, and high vacancy rates, and many local departments are not fully utilizing their annual allocations for VIEW services, which can be used for supportive services such as child care, transportation, and work-related expenses (such as uniforms or license fees) to remove barriers to employment.
In evaluating the design of VIEW and SNAP E&T, JLARC staff found that the programs did not support long-term self-sufficiency, instead encouraging “short-term planning focused on activities that quickly move clients into employment, rather than long-term planning focused on improving clients’ skills and employability that may lead to jobs with advancement opportunities.” The report notes that most VIEW clients do not meet work participation requirements, and those who do are often assigned to activities that do not help achieve long-term self-sufficiency, with most VIEW clients working in industries with low wages and irregular hours.
The report highlights the significant challenges to self-sufficiency posed by the lack of affordable child care, noting that in all regions of the state, costs for most types of child care exceed federal standards of affordability (child care costs accounting for 7 percent or less of household income), although school-age child care is affordable for the majority of Virginia families. An estimated 140,000 additional child care slots are needed in order to meet demand (with this figure likely an underestimate), and many slots will need to be subsidized; the greatest shortage of slots is for infants and toddlers. The state has deployed COVID-19 pandemic relief funds to temporarily increase reimbursements for subsidy providers and expand eligibility; however, this funding will expire at the end of FY 2024, and extending all of the recent expansions would require at least $319 million in state General Funds annually.
The report includes a series of recommendations and one policy option. Key recommendations of particular interest to local governments include the following:
- Require that each local department of social services develop and enter into a memorandum of understanding with its local workforce development board setting out coordination of workforce development activities for VIEW and SNAP E&T clients.
- Dedicate a portion of the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funding reserved by the Governor for statewide workforce development initiatives to facilitate the co-location of Virginia Career Works staff at local departments of social services on a part-time basis.
- Evaluate whether administering all or some aspects of VIEW and SNAP E&T through the Virginia Department of Workforce Development and Advancement and the Virginia Career Works centers would be beneficial.
- Establish modern caseload targets for local social services benefit programs and develop procedures for monitoring caseloads and updating targets as needed.
- Evaluate spending of VIEW funds by local departments of social services on at least a quarterly basis, identify the reasons local departments are not fully spending funds, and help local departments identify opportunities to fully spend funds on services that would help VIEW participants improve their employability and earnings potential. Revise VIEW policy to encourage local departments of social services to use available VIEW supportive services funds to pay for clients’ child care costs when they cannot be covered by the Child Care Subsidy Program.
- Direct the Secretary of Health and Human Resources and the Secretary of Labor to design and implement a pilot program for testing an alternative assessment and planning process for VIEW clients that uses an interdisciplinary team of program and service providers to develop long-term service plans for clients that encourage progress toward self-sufficiency.
- Monitor progress and outcome measures for VIEW clients in each local department of social services, and report results annually to each local board of social services and to certain legislative committees.
- Review and improve child care training to ensure the material is relevant, useful, and applicable to all staff at child care centers and that staff are only required to take training that pertains to their roles and responsibilities. Improve payment mechanisms for Child Care Subsidy vendors.
JLARC staff proposed as a policy option for consideration a requirement for each local department of social services to offer SNAP Employment and Training, but suggested that “[t]he General Assembly would need to weigh the fiscal impact of expanding the program against the relatively low potential the program has to help SNAP recipients move toward self-sufficiency.”