Research Report Navigating Work Requirements in Safety Net Programs
Heather Hahn
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Work-related requirements—such as employment, job search, job training, or community engagement activities—are currently a condition of eligibility for some safety net programs. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing assistance and Medicaid each include work-related requirements in some states or localities for some beneficiaries. Recent proposals would expand or introduce new work requirements in these and other safety net programs, which offer vital supports for families to meet their basic needs.

For parents, meeting work requirements to gain or maintain eligibility for safety net programs and access to vital supports is not as straightforward as simply engaging in the required work activities. Parents must not only understand what the requirements are, but be able to access the necessary training and supports to meet the requirements and document their compliance. If they qualify for an exemption, they must learn how to document this as well. Agencies administering safety net programs must be able to efficiently process each case.

This report illustrates and explores the complex pathways parents who are subject to work requirements must navigate to maintain their access to the safety net. Some pathways may lead families to maintain their access to benefits, while others could lead them to lose access to benefits for which they are still eligible. The infographic displayed below serves as a visual guide and illustration of these pathways and as a graphic organizer for the report.

Click on the image below to navigate and learn more about the pathways.

Navigating Work Requirements: Pathways For Parents infographic

We identify the following five steps families who are subject to work requirements in safety net programs must navigate:  

Step 1: Parents decide whether to participate in safety net programs. For some, the prospect of or confusion about work requirements can lead to a “chilling effect,” where they do not apply for assistance and they and their children do not receive support.

Step 2: Parents learn the details of the specific work requirement policies, such as types of qualifying work activities, required hours, exemption criteria, and reporting procedures. Work requirements vary widely across programs and states.

Step 3: Parents subject to the work requirements must work or engage in allowable activities for enough hours to comply with the requirement. Some may face challenges like limited local job availability, unstable work schedules and involuntary part-time shifts. Some may need help with child care assistance, education, training, or transportation. Those who can’t access these supports may be at risk of losing access to benefits.

Step 4: Parents must navigate the administrative process of documenting their compliance with or exemption from work requirements. Agencies overseeing safety net programs must accurately process each family’s case and approve their compliance or exemption in order for families to continue receiving benefits. Parents face red tape and potential administrative errors through this process, which could lead to a loss of benefits even if a family still qualifies.  

Step 5: As they navigate the different pathways through work requirements in safety net programs, parents and children face a variety of immediate and long-term consequences, which depend heavily on their ability to maintain access to vital supports to help them meet their basic needs. Evidence shows receiving assistance can support parents’ employment and lead to improved health, cognitive, behavioral, education, and economic outcomes for their children.

Research Areas Health and health care Families Social safety net Children and youth Workforce
Tags Workforce development Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Welfare and safety net programs Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program  Hunger and food assistance Child support Children's health and development Workers in low-wage jobs Families with low incomes Parenting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Housing subsidies From Safety Net to Solid Ground
Policy Centers Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population