The Choices program assists applicants, recipients, nonrecipient parents, and former recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance to transition from welfare to work through participation in work-related activities, including job search and job readiness classes, basic skills training, education, vocational training, and support services.
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Choices provides services to two populations:
Choices is Texas’ TANF Employment and Training Program that operates under a work first service model. One or both adults in a two-parent household are responsible for meeting the family’s mandatory work requirement. From the point of applying for cash assistance from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) through the delivery of benefits and employment services, Choices individuals receive a consistent message:
Both state and federal welfare reform legislation emphasizes personal responsibility, time-limited cash assistance benefits, and the goal of work instead of welfare. To support these mandates, TWC and Local Workforce Development Boards (Boards) developed a service delivery model with the goal of employment at the earliest opportunity for applicants and recipients of cash assistance.
In Fiscal Year 2012, TWC established new program parameters to provide Boards with the flexibility to design and deliver services that assist Choices customers in entering employment quickly. Under 45 CFR §261.10, states have the flexibility to define what it means to “engage in work.” For the purposes of the work participation rate, Texas considers a Choices–eligible individual to be engaged in work when participating in unsubsidized employment, subsidized employment, on-the-job Training (OJT), or educational services for Choices–eligible individuals who have not completed secondary school or received a GED credential.
The Workforce Orientation for Applicants (WOA) is an introduction to Workforce Solutions office services. TANF applicants are required to attend a WOA as a condition of eligibility, unless exempted by HHSC. Once certified for benefits, TANF recipients must attend an Employment Planning Session (EPS).
During an EPS, Workforce Solutions office staff meets with TANF recipients to introduce them to Choices services, develop an in-depth assessment, and develop a Family Employment Plan (FEP). Following the FEP, Choices participants are generally expected to participate in work activities (30 hours per week minimum for single parents, 35/55 hours per week for two-parent families depending upon their receipt of TWC-subsidized child care). Participation requirements for most recipients include the following activities directly related to work:
Employment services for Choices participants give priority to unsubsidized employment, subsidized employment, OJT, and educational services for teens who have not obtained a high school diploma or GED credential.
Any of the following Choices activities are allowed if the activity can reasonably be expected to assist Choices participants in obtaining and retaining employment:
While they do not count toward Choices performance, these Choices activities remain available for Choices customers.
All Choices services, including education and training, must be directly related to a specific job offer or high-growth, high-demand occupation. Boards develop policies to ensure that support services are provided if needed to enable Choices participants to work, attend, and participate in required Choices services. If a Choices participant indicates a need for support services, the services must be provided to remove any barrier to participation. If the barrier is not removed and the Choices participant is unable to participate, good cause must be granted and no penalty initiated.
Support services are available to assist Choices participants who are actively looking for work or who become employed. Support services include:
Active Choices participation is a basic requirement. Failure to participate without good cause results in an immediate sanction that discontinues all of the family’s TANF cash benefits, the adult family member’s Medicaid benefits, and support services.
Post-employment services assist individuals to achieve employment stability and to deal with crises that can lead to job loss. The first few months of employment are a critical time for new workers, so post-employment follow-up and support services are important to the success of individuals in retaining employment.
Boards ensure that Workforce Solutions office staff offers post-employment services to Choices individuals, including applicants, conditional applicants, and former recipients who obtained employment but require additional assistance in retaining employment and achieving self-sufficiency.
Key post-employment services include:
The State must submit an annual TANF State Plan to the Administration for Children and Families (ACF). In addition, the State is required to submit a TANF Work Verification Plan that details the allowable work activities and the documentation/verification of those activities as changes occur.
Program oversight for the TANF/Choices program rests with TWC’s Workforce Development Division and the Workforce Development Boards.
TANF/Choices services are funded through a combination of state and federal funds. The federal TANF block grant was created with the passage of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act that eliminated Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), the long-standing federal cash assistance program. TANF was reauthorized in February 2006 as part of the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act.
Other federal and state laws and regulations include:
Links to helpful publications or websites for working with the TANF/Choices program.
Other state and federal resources.