USDA recently released a Request for Applications (RFA) for up to 10 pilot SNAP Employment and Training projects designed to test innovative approaches to increasing employment and earnings. Authorized by the Agriculture Act of 2014 (the Farm Bill), the pilots aim to identify promising approaches by testing a wide variety of approaches and rigorously evaluating the impact of the pilots on SNAP participants’ earning, employment and self-sufficiency.
While states have operated SNAP E&T programs for years, the scope, quality and type of programs has varied widely. Little is known about their effectiveness, and whether some approaches are more successful than others in improving the employment outcomes of SNAP participants. At the same time, it is also unknown whether work and job training programs similar to those operated by other programs, such as TANF cash assistance or under the Workforce Investment Act, would be effective in SNAP given differences between client populations and program requirements.
The Farm Bill authorized $200 million for this effort, and USDA has designated $165 million for the costs of conducting the pilots and $35 million for evaluating the results. States can also leverage the existing 50/50 federal SNAP E&T matching funds to support the pilots. State SNAP agencies must apply by Nov. 24, 2014, with proposals selected by February, 2015. Pilots can run for up to three years with a longer period allotted for evaluating the results.
The pilots will test a variety of employment and training approaches to learn what helps SNAP participants gain employment and increase earnings.
The Farm Bill also requires that the pilots test a wide array of approaches, including those focused on education and training, services for individuals with barriers to employment, rapid attachment to work, and other strategies. Pilots can target a variety of SNAP participants including individuals with low skills; childless, nondisabled adults; and recipients who are working in very low-wage or part-time jobs. The grants will be distributed across a range of geographic areas, including rural and urban parts of the country. There will be a rigorous and independent evaluation of each pilot’s results.
To be eligible for a pilot project, a state must agree to participate in the independent evaluation, commit to collaborate with the state’s workforce board and maintain its 2013 SNAP E&T funding level. In addition, the statute requires that USDA consider whether the state has demonstrated the ability to operate a high quality program, whether the pilot could be replicated in other states and the likelihood of improving the employment and earning of participants.
States have an opportunity to test innovative approaches to providing employment among SNAP participants.
The pilot offers unique and promising approaches for states looking to engage SNAP participants in efforts to improve their employment prospects. For example pilots may,
- Provide supportive services to individuals who are already working. For a parent with children, a lack of child care can be a significant impediment to employment. A state could subsidize the costs of child care to allow a parent to increase work hours or take a better job that requires more time away from home.
- Provide supportive services to job searchers. Research on other assistance programs suggests that job search requirements without other services has a limited impact on employment outcomes. But some studies indicate that providing supports, such as child care, transportation, and case management that addresses barriers to work can lead to improved outcomes.
- Offer subsidized employment, where the state provides a subsidy to enable an employer to hire an individual. This approach has been successfully used in several state TANF programs and is explicitly permitted in the pilot.
- Engage recipients in training programs designed to lead to higher-paying jobs.
Pilots must adhere to SNAP rules.
While new activities are permitted, the pilots must operate under E&T rules, which exempt people not able to work from being required to participate, provide protections for individuals facing sanctions, and require states to reimburse individuals for the reasonable and necessary costs of participation. Current rules also require and the RFP emphasizes the need for states proposals to consider how they will assess individuals assigned or volunteering for SNAP E&T and assign those individuals to appropriate activities. In addition, state must maintain their current level of funding, so the pilots represent an expansion of state training efforts.
FNS has an E&T resource center online: http://www.fns.usda.gov/employment-and-training-et-resource-center.
For more information, please visit http://www.buildingbetterprograms.org/category/snap-et/
or contact Ed Bolen at firstname.lastname@example.org.