The GAIN model began at the county welfare department’s Income Maintenance Office where initial or continuing eligibility for welfare was determined. Nonexempt AFDC participants were registered for GAIN and referred to the GAIN office for orientation, which included a basic reading and math test and an appraisal, and GAIN-exempt participants were offered an opportunity to volunteer for the program. Nonexempt AFDC participants who attended orientation were randomly assigned into research groups, with comparison group members unable to access GAIN services (including child care) for at least three years. In the appraisal interview at orientation, the case manager reviewed the participant’s background before referring intervention group members to a GAIN activity or a temporary deferment. Participants could be deferred from the program for having a part-time job or a situation that prevented them from attending an activity, such as a temporary illness. The case manager also helped arrange supportive services such as child care and transportation. Case managers then connected GAIN participants to one of two primary service tracks:
- In need of basic education. Participants could choose the initial activity if they did not have a high school diploma or GED, did not obtain predetermined scores on the math or reading tests, or were not proficient in English. Participants in need of basic education either entered a job search activity or a basic education class such as Adult Basic Education (ABE), GED preparation, or English as a second language (ESL). However, those who chose a job search activity and did not secure employment were required to enter basic education.
- Not in need of basic education. Participants with a high school diploma (or a GED) and who surpassed predetermined scores on the math and reading tests were usually required to start a job search activity. Job search activities usually lasted for three weeks and included job club (group training sessions to learn job-seeking and interviewing skills) and supervised job search (in which participants received access to telephone banks, job listings, and employment counseling).
A third service track was available for GAIN participants who had started education or training activities before GAIN’s orientation. Prior enrollees could continue engaging in education and training activities as long as the activities prepared participants for local labor market in-demand occupations and training was completed within two years of starting GAIN.
GAIN participants who failed to secure employment after completing their initial activities were required to receive an employability assessment of their career plans to determine their post-assessment activity. Post-assessment activities included skills training, on-the-job training, unpaid work experience, or vocational postsecondary education. An individual employment plan was also required. For some participants, a 90-day job search occurred after the post-assessment activity. Participants who missed orientation or services without “good cause” could receive a financial sanction—that is, a reduction in their state welfare grant. Sanction amounts varied with family size. For example, in January 1993 when the welfare grant was $624 per month for a family of three, a sanction would have reduced the family’s grant by $120. Examples of “good cause” were not provided, and counties varied in their application of GAIN’s formal penalty process.
The six counties implementing GAIN varied in their approach to preparing participants for employment. For example, Riverside prioritized immediate employment or acceptance of any job regardless of participant interest or pay, whereas most other counties focused on skills development and encouraged participants to be selective about jobs.
Key implementation features of Riverside, the county with the most positive participant outcomes, included the following:
- Strong messaging emphasizing participants should quickly find jobs.
- Job placement goals for all county supervisors and district offices that culminated in a county-wide goal.
- Staff job performance ratings that were linked to their ability to meet job placement standards.
- Strong enforcement of the participation mandate.
- A focus on job search and basic education for participants who needed basic education.