By Indivar Dutta-Gupta & Kali Grant, Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality
The job market continues to bounce back from the economic downturn, but Americans’ feelings about job opportunities remain the same. Despite months or even years searching for jobs, two million Americans—more than a quarter of all unemployed workers—are long-term unemployed, meaning they’ve been searching for work for six months or longer. Unemployment is in no uncertain terms a waste of economic and human potential in our communities, demanding attention from philanthropists, advocates, service providers, and policymakers alike. Subsidized employment is a proven, promising, and underutilized approach to solving this problem.
We’ve just sent another question off to the Department of Labor, to clear up any confusion about using public sector and nonprofit employers as TJ worksites:
Question: Can Enhanced Transitional Jobs Demonstration grant funds be used to pay wages for TJ participants working at public sector and nonprofit worksites?
Answer: Wages paid by the grantee must be in accordance with the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) and provide the minimum wage.
Update–NTJN’s submitted questions for the US Department of Labor’s Enhanced Transitional Jobs Demonstration solicitation–answered
Here’s a list of the questions that the Network has submitted to the US DOL regarding this funding opportunity. Please see the Department of Labor’s answers below.
As noted earlier, if you have questions regarding the solicitation, we recommend you contact the DOL directly. Thanks to Mamie D. Williams, Grant Specialist, DOL-ETA.
Question: Are the $3 to 6 million grants to be spread out over the entire program period (4 years)?
Answer: Yes, funds awarded to a grantee under this demonstration will cover the entire program period.
Question: On page 2 of the SGA, “earning high wages” is an expected outcome. Given that the target program participants have had no or limited work success, and that different regions of the country have different costs of living and labor markets, will this be a relative measure based on where the participant is starting from in terms of wages, what the local cost of living is, and what job openings there are in the local labor market?
Answer: The employment-related goals of this demonstration are to improve participants’ employability, earnings, and opportunities for advancement, and to promote self-sufficiency and long-term success in the unsubsidized labor market. This improvement will be measured relative to the control group. Thus, things like cost of living and local labor market conditions will be controlled.
Question: On page 4 it indicates that temporary paid work experience should last for a minimum of 4 months. What if a participant is ready to move into the unsubsidized labor market sooner?
Answer: ETA is testing the impact of a paid work experience and enhancements on employment outcomes for populations with barriers to work. While a minimum of four months in duration for work experience does not seem unreasonable, ETA can only suggest that this minimum amount of time be available for each participant. However, in the event that they are ready to move on to unsubsidized employment, they may receive follow-up support services. Please see Section V., 3. ETJ Program Design on pages 25-26.
Question: Is there an expectation or target for the number of hours per week participants will work in a transitional job?
Answer: No, the number of hours worked per week can vary. However, the applicant must justify why the particular number of hours proposed is likely to yield long-term employment and non-employment outcomes. Please see Section V., 3. ETJ Program Design on pages 25-26.
Question: Is the creation of Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) for participants an allowable use of funds?
Answer: Yes, the creation of IDAs is an allowable use of funds. However, the applicant must justify why IDAs are likely to yield long-term employment and non-employment outcomes. Please see Section V., 3. ETJ Program Design on pages 25-26.
Question: On pages 5 through 7 enhancements to the model are described. Can other enhancements be proposed?
Answer: Yes, other enhancements may be proposed.
Question: On page 8, description of the random assignment indicates that “other referrals” could be given to the group assigned to the control group. For the evaluation is the enhanced transitional jobs program (program group) being compared to referrals as an intervention (control group)? Are there any limits on referrals, for example referrals to another TJ program vocational training?
Answer: All control group members may be referred to other program providers in the community who offer other, non TJ-related services and supports (please see additional information found in Section I.F. Mandatory Participation in the Random Assignment Evaluation on pages 9 and 10).
Question: Page 11 requires attendance at a mandatory conference within 90 days. Also on page 11 it indicates the grantees can take up to 3 months to implement the program. Can either the TA conference happen earlier or start-up happen later so the programs can fully benefit from the implementation support offered by the conference?
Answer: The Mandatory Grantee Orientation and Training Conference will be scheduled as soon after grant awards as feasible. Grantees under this SGA will be required to work with a technical assistance (TA) provider selected by ETA. The TA provider will work intensively with the grantees and partners during this initial implementation phase to assist with instituting the new components or strengthening organizational linkages. The evaluation team may also assist in this process. This initial implementation phase may begin prior to the Mandatory Grantee Orientation and Training Conference.
Question: Page 12 indicates approximately $15 million is designated to fund projects for ex-offenders. Can more go to that population if the number of high quality applications warrants it?
Answer: The minimum amount designated to fund projects for ex-offenders is $15 million. However, the Grant Officer reserves the right to award additional funds to qualified projects that propose to serve ex-offenders.
Question: Is there a set wage level that can be paid under this project for the paid work experience? A wage ceiling? Are all employment expenses included—for example, workers’ comp?
Answer: Per Section IV. E. 5 of the SGA, grantees must meet the requirements regarding wage and labor standards in the WIA regulations Section 667.272. This includes being in compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), administered by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. Work experiences may fall under the FLSA. The FLSA, as implemented by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, requires compensation for services performed for a for-profit employer unless the work meets the trainee test under the FLSA. See the SGA Requirements in Section IV. E. 5: Use of Grant Funds for Participant Paid Work Experience. More information on the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), administered by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, can be found at (http://www.dol.gov/compliance/laws/comp-flsa.htm). Based on the FLSA requirements, applicants should ensure that their employment costs, including and ancillary cost, are appropriately budgeted.
Question: Is it anticipated that program participants will be eligible for unemployment insurance upon completing the program?
Answer: Generally, all determinations of whether or not a person is eligible for unemployment benefits are made by the appropriate State under its law or applicable federal laws. However, grantees should be aware that wages associated with work experiences are counted as earnings when a participant is currently collecting Unemployment Insurance (UI). The income from these wages may affect the amount and duration of a participants UI claim, in the same manner as regular wages. In general, benefits are based on a percentage of an individual’s earnings over a recent 52-week period – up to a State maximum amount. For more information, please contact a State Unemployment Insurance agency. To find the contact information for all states please visit America’s Service Locator Web site at: http://www.servicelocator.org/OWSLinks.asp.
Question: Page 25 discusses past performance of clients who have entered postsecondary training or education, GED, etc and the number that have achieved credentials – if an applicant doesn’t provide these services can this be omitted?
Answer: If an applicant or its required partners or other partners do not provide these services, your technical proposal can omit data on entered postsecondary education or training, and attainment of GEDs and other credentials. Please keep in mind, your application would not fully respond to the criteria stated in the SGA.
Question: Does DOL anticipate that participants in the demonstration be treated as employees of the entity providing transitional jobs programs or trainees according to labor laws?
Answer: Applicants will need to describe the work experience parameters, including where the employer-employee relationship resides. If the grantee pays wages to participants, then the grantee is the employer. If the employer providing the transition job pays wages, then they are the employer of record. The SGA authorizes use of grant funds for payment of wages. Therefore, the grantee can pay wages to participants in transitional jobs. If an employer pays the wages, the grantee may not reimburse the employer for wages paid as this is a wage subsidy that is prohibited under WIA. See Section IV. E. 5. – Use of Grant Funds for Participant Paid Work Experience on page 22. All work experience, regardless of who the employer of record is, must meet the requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act, per Section 667.272 of the WIA regulations.
The FLSA, as implemented by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, requires compensation for services performed for a for-profit employer unless the work meets the trainee test under the FLSA. See the SGA Requirements in Section E5: Funding Restrictions: Use of Grant Funds for Participant Paid Work Experience. More information on the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), administered by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, can be found at (http://www.dol.gov/compliance/laws/comp-flsa.htm).
Question: For the purposes of other income-based eligible benefits, such as Food Stamps, should applicants assume that wages earned by participants while in the program will not be counted as income for the purposes of determining eligibility for federal benefits?
Answer: According to the WIA regulations Section 667.272(c),” allowances, earnings, and payments to individuals participating in programs under Title I of WIA are not considered as income for purposes of determining eligibility for and the amount of income transfer and in-kind aid furnished under any Federal or Federally assisted program based on need other than as provided under the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 301 et seq.). (WIA sec. 181(a)(2).)” Please see http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2007/aprqtr/pdf/20cfr667.272.pdf).