Experiences with Leveraging Resources for Common Goals
Job seekers requiring intensive employment supports will likely benefit from access to multiple funding and resource streams. "Braiding" resources are important and valuable, whether to fund a broader array of services or help buy equipment the individual can use in the job search. While braiding is highly complex and often met by a number of systemic barriers, many grantees worked through these challenges and were able to share resources creatively. Resource braiding can occur at a programmatic or an individual level, and can involve either monetary or non-monetary resources, such as staffing, transportation, training, etc. By drawing resources from multiple sources and using funds creatively and flexibly, systems increased the effectiveness of their expenditures dramatically. Small pots of flexible funding allowed entities to quickly meet customers' needs while simultaneously creating incentives for other systems to contribute resources to the job search. When successfully leveraged, these resources proved to be an important innovation for customers with significant barriers to employment and could be extended past the life of the grant.
Braiding Resources around an Individual
The complex lives of many job seekers calls for coordinated resources from multiple sources. In one case, multiple agencies (including Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), Social Security, Workforce Investment Act (WIA) provider, Microenterprise, and the Department of Agriculture) came together around an individual and provided either funding or other resources to contribute to their employment goals. Shared funding efforts often entailed purchasing equipment for a fledgling business. Other partnerships began braiding resources effectively by using a small amount of flexible funding to encourage other partners (such as VR) to contribute dollars to an employment plan. Also, a common observation was that creative funding arrangements flourished in systems that valued person-directedness; knowing this helped many sites to focus their efforts on the most effective resources.
When facing the difficult goal of braiding monetary resources from multiple entities around a single individual, having a small but flexible allocation of funds available was extremely helpful. These funds could meet small but immediate needs that often cropped up during a job search, such as clothing and car repairs, as well as provide an important foundation for small-business development and resource acquisition. In one instance, a grantee found that an individual's resources identified through the Social Security Administration's Plan for Achieving Self-Support, though somewhat complicated to access, were an underutilized source of very flexible funding that could be used to support employment goals.
Resource acquisition emerged as an important outcome when using braided resources. In some instances, customers could use various funding streams to purchase equipment, both in support of small businesses and for traditional employment efforts. For example, a knife kit could be purchased for a chef-in-training or a small tractor obtained for a farming establishment. This setup was similar to an individually directed account, where funds from various sources are dropped into an account that an individual can use freely. In some cases there was no account, but the recipient was responsible for using the acquired funds to make purchases related to employment goals. One partnership capitalized on WIA Individual Training Account dollars as one of many funding streams used for resource acquisition. Purchasing equipment that became the property of the job seeker increased that individual's value as a potential employee or entrepreneur. This was among one of the most important examples of putting resources directly in the control of the individual.
Programmatic Resource Sharing
Many sites chose to blend resources at a systematic or programmatic level. In one instance, a mental health employment agency and Local Workforce Investment Board (LWIB) expanded the services available to One-Stop customers by pooling monetary and human resources. A formal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) provided the foundation for a blend of finances, staffing, and resources. Project staff and consultants coordinated a four-part partnership between the One-Stops, VR, the Division of Mental Retardation Services, and community employment-service providers. This network was mutually beneficial, allowing easy service coordination and payment for community providers implementing customized practices for customers referred by the One-Stop or by VR. A series of Letters of Understanding (akin to MOUs) also underwrote these partnerships. These and similar strategies allowed sites to offer services that were co-funded or cosponsored by multiple agencies, which in turn provided service that was more thorough and served a broader range of job seekers.
Non-Monetary Resource Braiding
Policy makers often think primarily of braiding or combining money. However, local levels often have a broad range of untapped, non-monetary resources available for individuals. Some partners were able to successfully braid their services with those offered by other community resources, such as Benefits Planning, Assistance & Outreach (BPAO) services, and WIA core services, while others recognized the benefit of assisting with housing, transportation, on-the-job training opportunities, and personal-care needs. In one instance, collaboration with a sheltered workshop helped to provide transportation, job coaching, and other staff support for multiple customers in integrated, profitable businesses within the community. Another site's close collaboration with a local microenterprise center resulted in a mutually beneficial exchange of both monetary and non-monetary resources.
Leveraging Resources: Challenges and Strategies
As projects worked with their partners to access a variety of resources for job seekers, they addressed the following challenges:
Administrative Barriers to Sharing Resources
Agencies' spending rules and performance measures sometimes became administrative challenges that could impede effective resource sharing. Spending policies tended to lay out specific examples of allowable expenditures, leaving little opportunity for sharing resources with other agencies or creative spending. As such, without officially prohibiting such spending, policies often effectively discouraged it.
In many cases, policy issues were recognized and effectively addressed. When one site's staff perceived something of a contradiction between stringent performance goals and providing services to individuals with barriers to employment, the WIB developed a graded performance-measurement system that took both goals into account. At another site, staff gathered and reported relevant information to VR, which led to the development of an MOU that allowed VR to cover individual service costs that had previously been absorbed by the grant.
In another example, customers at one particular One-Stop were required to make five visits to the site to use core services and wait 30 days before accessing additional WIA funding. This proved especially challenging for Customized Employment grant customers, who often did not benefit from self-directed core services and/or may have had limited transportation options. In response to these and other intensive needs, the One-Stop and the grant worked together to create an Intensive Services Unit Team. This unit spearheaded both policy analysis and flexible, intensive services, leading to a formal policy review of intake as well as eligibility rules and requirements.
Human Resource and Time Demands
In almost every case, and certainly when partnerships and methods were new and untried, significant staff time was required to braid resources effectively. Grants took various steps to ensure continued resource-sharing post-funding, when project staff would have less time to facilitate the process.
To expedite referral and information sharing with VR and other major partners, some sites developed joint intake forms. These new forms automatically directed an applicant to as many partners as seemed applicable and eliminated the need to re-enroll at each new agency. The forms were specifically designed not to refer customers "out", but rather to allow them access to a broader range of services. Similarly, other sites engaged SSA benefit planners to leverage resources. These planners guided customers to various work incentives and flexible-funding streams related to an individual's SSI/SSDI and Medicaid status.
Project staff at one site developed a funding strategies planning form to help staff gather the necessary information on job seekers and take advantage of the widest possible range of funding for them. This form, completed upon intake, was designed to lay the groundwork for employment planning and for coordinating any necessary ancillary support services. This strategy combined benefits, employment, and whole-life planning to create a comprehensive but practical approach for the individual and his/her support staff.
Multiple and Complex Funding Sources
A clear challenge to leveraging various funding streams was finding out what those streams were and how to access them. One project partner applied to be a provider in the Social Security Ticket-to-Work pilot. This pilot tested a "capital investment" approach designed to assist Employment Networks overcome perceived disincentives of the payment system by allowing four to five payments for services over the year. The money, provided through the state Department of Rehabilitation Services and the Mayor's Office on Persons with Disabilities, allowed providers to receive payments while providing services rather than waiting for Social Security Administration payment.
VR agencies were also seen as a potential source for flexible, braidable funding on both programmatic and individual levels, but the development of this partnership took considerable time and effort. Sites faced multiple challenges, including the fact that VR was frequently not accustomed to concepts such as flexible funding, person-directed funding, and resource ownership. Each site faced its most significant challenge when creating shared goals with VR around the validity of braided funding and resource ownership. Freeing up money to purchase resources (outside of assistive technology) or to buy nontraditional support services is often outside traditional VR practices. Staff from one LWIB created a multimedia presentation that explained the concepts of braided funding and resource ownership, linking the explanation to real success stories. Because systems change required buy-in at both the central leadership and counselor levels, this marketing approach proved effective in the project's efforts to collaborate with VR staff.
Limited Access to Systems' Funding
Individual Training Accounts (ITAs) were both a challenging and helpful tool for Customized Employment grantees. ITAs are designed to provide training to job seekers, but their terms are often dictated by a host of locally created policies that restrict their use and often pose challenges to individuals with complex needs. Project staff at one site worked on this issue from several standpoints. They co-located staff in the One-Stop and attended the site's planning and management meetings regularly. They also worked with many customers referred by the One-Stop. In one example, a customer's ITA allowed both training and the purchase of equipment necessary to that training (which the customer thereafter retained), which enabled him to become self-employed.
Despite difficulties accessing ITAs and other funding streams through WIA, many Customized Employment customers were able to get supportive services funding. This funding stream was designed to provide quick-response support for job seekers who require housing or sustenance while looking for work. Other sites were able to successfully access state Medicaid waiver funding. This worked particularly well in instances where a community provider referred an individual to the project for customized job-search services. In these instances, the individual received long-term supports from that agency and paid for the services under the state's 1915(c) Home and Community-Based Waiver, which allows employment supports as a payable service. This strategy depended on each state's waiver and the agency's ability to access the funding.
Use partnerships as a foundation for creative and shared-funding allocations.
The use of progressive allocation techniques, such as braided funding and resource allocation, has proven highly effective. A firm base of pre-existing partnerships further supports organizations in feeling comfortable allocating resources in conjunction with another agency around a single job seeker or project.
Recognize the importance of non-monetary resources in job-development efforts.
Often, discussion around local resource sharing becomes stymied by the concept of shared funding. Although funding is a necessary element of every service, it is nonetheless essential to recognize the importance of also contributing non-monetary resources and their potential value to an individual's job search. For example, a local BPAO project most likely will not be able to contribute funding per se, but could provide a service that supports the job seeker's success.
Determine a source of small amounts of flexible funding.
In every successful instance of braiding multiple funding streams in support of an individual, the process started with the commitment of a small allotment of flexible funding, typically provided directly by a Customized or Workforce Action grant. This first contribution seemed to pave the way for other agencies and organizations to commit funding and other resources. Many agencies are averse to being the "first spender," particularly on ventures (such as entrepreneurship and resource ownership) that might be perceived as speculative. Local systems should try to identify a standard initial funding stream that could serve this purpose. VR, for example, has a great degree of flexibility in its funding allotments and could, therefore, serve this purpose, if its funding practices were adequately expedient.