In 1988, the New York Department of Social Services (DSS) sought to address two concerns within its public welfare program. The first was the need to replace its costly job training programs with one that emphasized immediate job placement while training those in need. The second was to enact effective welfare reform by infusing the system with performance-based contracting and privatization. Since the beginning of the decade, the focus of welfare debates had shifted from immediate employment to the need for enhanced training programs.
Partnership with the America Works private-sector initiative answered these problems. America Works is a private, for-profit company that moves welfare recipients into private sector jobs with healthcare benefits. The typical participant has five years on public welfare and, at best, a sporadic work history. America Works provides a six-week orientation and job readiness program, combining attendance requirements with résumé and interview preparation, skills review, and counseling in social service provision. A sales staff member finds appropriate job openings for the program's participants to apply for. Once hired, participants have up to four months of support at the worksite by America Works corporate representatives.
DSS retains America Works through performance-based contracts to ensure that the program retains its integrity and efficacy. The majority of America Works' per-person fees are not paid until after the given participant has been on the job for more than four months. The program has moved over 1,600 people have from welfare to work. The average wage paid for program graduates is $8.54 an hour plus medical benefits. Retention rates have hit 80 percent for participants after a year out of the program.
America Works has proven that it can create long-term job placements rather than being a revolving door enterprise, and it has fulfilled the original goal of finding a privately run program to create those job placements without a long or expensive training program. The program has sparked national interest with nearly 1,000 inquires and visits from elected officials.