A recent performance  audit conducted by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor found significant shortcomings in the coordination and effectiveness of the state’s social safety net and workforce training programs. While the programs serve a crucial role in supporting individuals and families, the audit revealed a fragmented system lacking in unified vision and performance-based outcomes.

This comprehensive audit was initiated by Representative Barbara Freiberg through House Resolution 100 of the 2023 Regular Legislative Session and follows significant audits of three of the individual programs, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF),  and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). These individual audits contained many common themes:

  • Programs are not empowering individuals toward self-sufficiency.
  • Supportive services significantly enhance participant outcomes.
  • Work programs are serving fewer individuals despite growing assistance program rolls.
  • Insufficient data hampers effective program evaluation.
  • The auditor recommends greater oversight of service providers, improving performance data collection, and placing greater emphasis on program completion.

There was little surprise when this audit revealed much of the same findings, along with a lack of coordination between programs and lack of sufficient outcomes-based data.

More than one in five Louisianans were provided assistance in 2023, (23% of the population, or 1.07 million individuals) with a total expenditure of $3.27 billion across the various programs like SNAP, TANF, WIOA, Childcare Assistance Program (CCAP), and Unemployment Insurance (UI).

The audit identified a critical lack of coordination among the agencies overseeing these programs. This siloed approach hinders the creation of a unified vision and plan for program delivery, potentially leading to inefficiencies and missed opportunities for supporting individuals in need.

The report emphasized the absence of robust performance metrics and outcome data. Without such measures, it’s difficult to assess the effectiveness of these programs and determine if they are truly achieving their intended goals of improving employment prospects and economic self-sufficiency.

The audit provides a roadmap for improvement, outlining several crucial areas requiring attention:

  • Leadership and Collaboration: The governor plays a vital role in fostering increased collaboration among agencies and stakeholders. This can involve establishing a unified vision for program delivery and streamlining membership within relevant councils like the Workforce Investment Council (WIC).
  • Information Sharing and Transparency: The state can improve access to resources by creating a comprehensive website encompassing all available public assistance programs and their eligibility criteria. This transparency can empower individuals to navigate the system more effectively.
  • Data Sharing and Integration: The audit encourages addressing existing barriers to data sharing between agencies. Technological solutions can be explored where feasible, allowing for a more holistic view of individual needs and facilitating more coordinated service delivery.
  • Performance-Based Outcomes: Implementing measurable targets and metrics is crucial for assessing program effectiveness. This data can guide informed decisions regarding resource allocation and program improvement.

It’s clear that Louisiana’s collection of safety-net programs needs a paradigm shift so its low-income, work-capable citizens can move out of dependency on the government and find hope and lasting self-sufficiency. This starts with connecting people with a job, which is the best path to prosperity. Work brings dignity, hope, and purpose through the life-long benefits of earning a living, gaining skills, and building social capital.

Several states have already pursued innovations and begun to organize and deliver workforce and social safety-net services to achieve better outcomes:

  • Colorado, Michigan, Texas, Utah, and Washington have centralized application portals for individuals to apply for assistance all in one place.
  • Missouri and Colorado use a unified case management system.
  • Minnesota automatically enrolls individuals in all eligible workforce and social safety-net programs after an initial assessment.
  • Washington uses a single, unified data management system for clients across relevant workforce development services programs, including but not limited to WIOA, TANF, and SNAP E&T.
  • Colorado locates all relevant workforce services staff within the same offices or office building.
  • Maryland uses a single intake assessment tool to determine individuals’ needs and program eligibility and employs unified performance measures across workforce and social safety-net programs.

However, the gold standard of innovation and integration is Utah’s Department of Workforce Services. Prior to the creation of the federal WIOA program, Utah fully integrated all social safety-net and workforce training and education services under one department, creating a true “one-stop shop” for all assistance. Unfortunately, changes made with the creation of WIOA created barriers to this same level of coordination and collaboration within other states.

The good news is that there are efforts underway to have Congress enable other states to implement the Utah model, or something similar to it, should they wish to do so. If their efforts are successful, Louisiana should be prepared to consolidate and refocus its programs accordingly as soon as the federal government removes all roadblocks.

The findings of this audit highlight the need for a comprehensive overhaul of Louisiana’s social safety net and workforce development system. By prioritizing collaboration, data sharing, and performance-based outcomes, the state can create a more integrated and effective system that empowers individuals to achieve their full potential and build a brighter future.