From Each Other: Increasing WtW Voucher Utilization and Success
with a TANF-Agency Partnership in Alaska
Agency: Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC)
and Alaska's Division of Public Assistance (DPA)
(Size of WtW Program: 652 vouchers)
The Alaska Housing Finance Corporation is a state housing agency
that administers 4,100 housing choice vouchers in 12 regions throughout
the state. It administers a 652-unit WtW voucher program in seven
of these regions. Challenges facing the AHFC as it strives to maintain
100-percent voucher utilization and support the self-sufficiency
efforts of participants include the following:
- Program administration in a large geographic territory.
Alaska's size, approximately one-fifth the size of the United
States, creates administrative, financial, and technical challenges.
AHFC divides the state into four regions, with an area coordinator
assigned to each region to oversee program administration.
- High staff turnover. Staff turnover affects program
management, particularly for a program that is new, labor-intensive,
and requires a high level of coordination among partner agencies.
- High WtW voucher program turnover rate. Currently
AHFC estimates a 45-percent turnover rate of families participating
in the WtW voucher program.
- Limited FSS program. Only a small number of WtW
clients can receive FSS benefits because the FSS program is only
available to families living in Anchorage and Juneau.
- Limited funding. Like most WtW agencies, the AHFC
did not receive any direct TANF, DOL, or other dollars to support
the program, making case management and supportive service provision
Solution: Partner with State TANF Agency to Provide
Case Management and Support Services to WtW Clients
To address these challenges, AHFC partnered with the Department
of Public Assistance (DPA), Alaska's State TANF agency, to administer
the WtW voucher program. This partnership first resulted in the
establishment of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that spelled
out how the program would be administered through this partnership.
As program implementation began, both agencies learned through
trial and error about what was working and what was not. New challenges
and opportunities arose, and both partners saw the need to sit back
down at the negotiating table and craft a second MOU to strengthen
the partnership's effectiveness. The second MOU calls for the development
and implementation of an Action Plan, which will ensure that both
agencies work to achieve the MOU's goals and objectives.
Both AHFC and DPA agree that the program's success results from
each agency's willingness to work together towards the common goal
of helping WtW voucher recipients find and maintain employment.
Success has not been fast or easy, but has occurred
over time with much work and dedication of staff at both agencies.
Key aspects and examples that illustrate how that partnership works
include the following:
- Collaborating to write the MOU. When developing
the partnership, the AHFC and DPA met frequently to discuss their
ideas about what should be included in the MOU. Even when they
were not meeting, the agencies regularly exchanged ideas, proposals,
and draft language. Both agencies freely asked each other for
clarification as needed.
- Assigning clear roles and responsibilities of line staff.
AHFC initially envisioned that DPA would be responsible for referring
eligible families to AHFC, but AHFC assumed responsibility for
this due to staffing and other constraints at the state TANF agency.
AHFC regional staff screens families, determines eligibility,
issues vouchers, and leases families into the program. WtW families
currently or recently receiving TANF benefits (within six months)
receive case management services from a DPA caseworker. At the
annual reexamination, AHFC regional staff monitors family adherence
to WtW family obligations. DPA also provides WtW clients with
childcare and transportation assistance to attend WtW meetings,
search for housing, and attend interviews.
- Sharing data to assist line staff working with families.
The first MOU allows DPA to share family data with AHFC for eligibility
and verification purposes. The second MOU significantly expands
data sharing capacity by giving AHFC online (read-only) access
to client data contained in DPA's statewide database, the Eligibility
Information System (EIS). For example, at the time of the annual
reexamination, AHFC regional staff can access the details of the
family's TANF history, including progress made in meeting the
goals and objectives of its individual TANF self-sufficiency plan
to identification of non-compliance issues, sanctions, etc.
- Designating a key point of contact. As outlined
in the MOU, each agency designates one staff person to represent
the agency and commit the necessary time and energy to make the
partnership and WtW program work. As a result, these two agency
representatives ensure that WtW is not put on the "backburner."
Both agency representatives have been given the responsibility
and authority to make the partnership work, including negotiating
on behalf of his/her agency, raising and resolving policy issues,
and developing and implementing policies and procedures.
- Agreeing to disagree and compromise. First and
foremost, both agencies are committed to supporting WtW voucher
program families in their journey towards self-sufficiency. Because
of this, they have succeeded in working together despite some
philosophical differences, resource constraints, and competing
demands. Each agency respects differing viewpoints of the other
and does not let such differences lead to a break in the partnership.
For example, AHFC and DPA initially had different views regarding
who should be eligible to receive a WtW voucher. AHFC wanted to
narrow its selection criteria to ensure eligible families are
committed to meeting the employment goals of the program. DPA
favored more flexible criteria. The two agencies worked together
to determine that eligible clients must meet one of two criteria:
- Currently receiving TANF benefits, is in good standing
with TANF self-sufficiency plan, and is not exempt from TANF
work requirements; or
- Eligible for or recently off of TANF (within the last 24
months), provided individual is employed or in a recognized
job training program.
- Focusing on training and staff capacity building.
As state agencies with broad geographic reach and high staff turnover,
both AHFC and DPA share the enormous challenge of effectively
and efficiently communicating priorities, policies, and procedures
to front-line staff and supervisors. The second MOU ensures that
front-line staff at both agencies is knowledgeable about and committed
to the goals of the WtW voucher program by establishing a training
component. For example, AHFC is in the process of briefing DPA
case managers on the changes to the program, as well as on the
basics such as how a housing voucher works, who is eligible, and
local points of contact.
- Providing a regular information exchange. The
second MOU specifically calls for regular information exchange
between the two agencies. Examples of this include the following:
- As described in the second MOU, AHFC has implemented a
new procedure whereby staff contacts DPA caseworkers to notify
them that a WtW-eligible family is scheduled to be briefed
and issued a WtW voucher. This allows the DPA caseworker to
make immediate contact with the family to see if they need
any help, such as transportation or childcare assistance,
while they attend the briefing and search for housing. Recently
AHFC has seen a 20-percent increase in briefing attendance
and attributes some of this success to the early involvement
of the DPA caseworker.
- The AHFC is experiencing high rates of turnover in the
WtW voucher program. Both agencies worked together to share
and analyze information in order to better understand and
address this problem. AHFC identified which clients left the
program and why and shared this data with DPA staff. DPA staff
then searched their database to obtain client histories for
shared clients. The goal was to determine whether DPA could
have intervened and supported these families, thereby preventing
them from leaving the program.
- The agencies regularly communicate to inform each other
of changing needs and priorities, issues and concerns, and
successes. Managers from both agencies meet quarterly to discuss
implementation and review program status. In addition, staff
shares information electronically as much as possible, including
revised forms and procedures.
- Marketing the program effectively. Only about
one-third of Alaska's WtW voucher participants are currently receiving
TANF cash assistance. Both agencies discovered that the program's
name did not reflect the status of many of the participants who
were no longer on welfare. So the agencies renamed the WtW voucher
to the Work Incentive (WIN) Voucher to better fit the target population
and create positive feelings about the program within the community.
Success breeds success, and this is certainly true for AHFC's partnership
with DPA and the WIN voucher program. The success of the WIN program
and the strength of the partnership have resulted in more partnering
opportunities and the chance to expand/strengthen services being
provided to shared clients.
Building on this success, AHFC and DPA are looking to implement
of statewide FSS program in Alaska. Due to staffing constraints,
AHFC currently runs the FSS program in only two cities. AHFC is
exploring options for expanding FSS by using DPA case workers to
administer the program, through family outreach and case management.
The idea is to use the WtW voucher program as a pilot, with the
goal of offering FSS to as many shared clients (WtW and TANF) as
possible. AHFC and DPA are working to develop a first year "model"
program and then grow the FSS program to all seven communities administering
Contact Information: Jim Gurke, Manager, Policy
and Program Development, Division of Public
Housing, Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, (907) 330-8420, firstname.lastname@example.org
Erin Tolles, Work Services Policy Analyst, Division of Public Assistance,
Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, email@example.com
Source: Presentation during the WtW teleconference
call, "Strengthening TANF/DOL Partnerships"
(August 22, 2002)