Gainful Employment and Independence is one of four key outcome areas APHSA seeks to impact through a transformed human service system. Through aligned and person-centered programs, flexible funding, meaningful accountability, and strategic partnerships, we can provide the opportunities and supports that will help low-income individuals get a job, keep a job, and start down a sustainable career path.
The necessary policy directions for gainful employment and independence will require that we:
- direct resources into those supports that will help adults get a job and stay employed
- emphasize education and training; affordable, quality child care; incentives for employers to hire those getting public assistance; and help with transportation to a job
- provide supports, such as tools to help secure stable housing and appropriate opportunities for those with disabilities
- provide other opportunities through which adults can quickly become as self-sufficient as possible, such as community wealth creation enterprises
For working-age individuals and their families, having a job and staying in the workforce are critical to achieving greater independence. Employment is one of the surest and most long-lasting means to equip people with the lifetime tools they need for sustaining their incomes and dignity and avoiding future need for government support. Human service agencies, along with their workforce development partners, the economic development community, the education and training system, and other stakeholders, play a critical role in preparing individuals for employment and supporting their success in the workforce.
For these individuals and families, successful and sustained employment is often more than getting that first job or returning to the workforce; they typically need support and opportunities for becoming work-ready, finding and securing a job, staying in the workforce over time, and skill development and job advancement.
Once these basic employment elements are in place, the ability to build assets helps individuals and families move even more securely down the road to independence. Greater opportunities to accumulate wealth, such as Individual Development Accounts, are a necessary element of true long-term success. Similarly, tax code changes such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Care Tax Credit have dramatically reinforced the importance of maintaining a regular wage and steady employment.
Employment and achieving independence constitutes a process, not a one-time event. This outcome, therefore, encompasses a variety of supports, services, and approaches tailored to the degree of individual need. These include time-limited, flexible work support funds like the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program; income supports, when needed, for food assistance, health care, behavioral health care (including mental health and substance abuse treatment), and housing; appropriate training for career readiness and workforce development services; and access as necessary to critical work supports such as child care and transportation assistance.
These services and supports help prepare the supply side of the labor market, but can succeed only in partnership with demand-side strategies that engage employers and economic developers. Economic development is essential for strong employment, but often does not invest in the needs of low-income populations. Support for community development is also critical, such as that provided by the Community Development Block Grant and the Community Services Block Grant. For some individuals, such as those with significant disabilities and the re-entry population, other services and supports may be needed to provide opportunities for integrated employment and success at work.
Public Policy Should:
- Promote appropriate employment supports, economic development, employer incentives, wealth creation enterprises, micro-enterprise strategies, youth employment initiatives, and education and training.
- Base measures that are used to hold state employment programs accountable on appropriate outcomes that demonstrate genuine progress toward self-sufficiency and that reflect state-specific plans and options.
- Align programs so that the proper combination of services and supports can be deployed on behalf of a client for the right time and the right duration.
- Support governance frameworks for these programs that foster collaboration within public agencies as well as transparent participation with community stakeholders.
- Realign support programs such as food assistance, child care, health care, and housing in support of a holistic approach to employment and self-sufficiency, and to mitigate and ultimately remove the "cliff effect"—in which modest wage increases can trigger sudden loss of other benefits and jeopardize wage progression and stability.
- Continue supporting state efforts to promote community and integrated employment for people with disabilities, as well as program alignment and blended or braided funding models that enable the delivery of evidence-based employment models to individuals with disabilities.
- Support consistent engagement between human services and related federal, state, and local agencies, including strategic involvement of educators, employers, health care providers, and service providers.