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Work Support Strategies




About Work First
How did Work First Develop?
Work First Benefits
State Plan
Work Verification Plan

Work First - About Work First

North Carolina 's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, called Work First, is based on the premise that parents have a responsibility to support themselves and their children. Through Work First, parents can get short-term training and other services to help them become employed and self-sufficient, but the responsibility is theirs, and most families have two years to move off Work First Family Assistance. Work First emphasizes three strategies:

1. Diversion : Keeping families off welfare by helping them cope with unexpected emergencies or setbacks.

Under Work First, qualifying families can get a one-time payment equivalent to up to three months worth of cash Work First benefits, based on a needs assessment by the county worker, Medicaid, child care and Food and Nutrition Services, if eligible, and other supportive services.

2. Work: Shortening the length of time that families are on Work First Family Assistance by making work mandatory and by limiting how long a family can receive cash assistance.

To receive Work First Family Assistance benefits, parents must register with the First Stop Employment Assistance Program, sign a Mutual Responsibility Agreement (MRA) and, once they move into the work components of the program, they can continue to receive benefits for up to 24 months. In most cases, families who have reached the 24-month limit cannot receive Work First Family Assistance for three years.

3. Retention: Helping families to stay off public assistance by encouraging them to save and by helping to make sure they really are better off working than on welfare.

Work First increased limits on savings and vehicles, and the state legislature raised income eligibility limits for subsidized child care to ease the burden on low-income, working families. To help families stay employed, counties are also providing services, such as transportation, to families whose income is at or below 200 percent of poverty.

Ultimately, North Carolina 's goal is to help all families move to self-sufficiency. Most will make it all the way; some, because of hardship or disability, will have a harder time.

North Carolina's success thus far at helping families move from cash assistance to work has led to a broadened focus for the Work First Program. No longer is the focus just on helping those families who receive cash assistance move off the rolls. While we remain committed to continuing our assistance to those families, we have added the flexibility and program structure for counties to provide former Work First families with job retention and child and family enrichment services designed to help ensure families' long-term success. Further, since child support is critical to ensuring families' success, we have expanded the Work First Program to allow counties to provide work-related services to non-custodial parents of Work First children.

Further, ensuring the safety and well-being of children is of utmost concern. Toward that end, North Carolina has taken advantage of the opportunity offered by the TANF Block Grant to enhance our efforts in this area.

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How did Work First develop?

Work First began by Executive Order of Gov. Jim Hunt in July 1995. In July 1996, waivers granted by the federal government allowed the state to institute work requirements and time limits.

In August 1997, October 1998, and again in July 1999, the North Carolina General Assembly passed, and Governor Hunt signed into law, modifications to the welfare reform legislation. One provision in this legislation gives identified local governments significant control over their Work First program.

The legislation identifies counties as Standard or Electing. Standard counties operate the State's Work First Program while Electing counties have additional flexibility in program design.

The following is a list of current Electing Counties:
Beaufort, Caldwell, Catawba, Lenoir, Lincoln, Macon, and Wilson.

Each county must develop a local Work First block grant plan, including descriptions of strategies to achieve measurable statewide outcome goals. Development of county plans must involve a broad range of public, private, and nonprofit groups. Because broad-based community involvement is essential to help families become self-sufficient, the local block grant plan must describe how businesses, community groups, non-profits, and religious groups will be involved in their Work First program.

Work First cash assistance is provided primarily for children. In standard counties, biological or adoptive parents and stepparents may apply for assistance for a child and must be included in the payment for the family, unless they are disqualified from the program. Other relatives and individuals, regardless of their relationship, who have legal custody or guardianship of children may apply for assistance on their behalf, but will not be included in the payment to the family. Work First cash assistance is not provided to pregnant women without other dependent children.

In standard counties, children are eligible for benefits through age 17. Parents under age 18 must live at home or in an approved adult-supervised arrangement and remain in school. Legal immigrants who were living in the United States on or before August 22, 1996, and who otherwise are eligible, will continue to be eligible for Work First. Please note also that other immigrants who arrived after August 22, 1996 maybe eligible for assistance, depending on their immigration status.

Legislation requires county departments of social services to provide a wide range of services for families with income at or below 200% of the federal poverty level as long as they meet the eligibility criteria. This is an important tool in not only helping former welfare families remain off assistance. It is often a critical source of services for helping families who may have never received assistance, stay off welfare. Services may include, but aren't limited to employment related services, transportation to/from work, post-employment short-term skills training, child and family enrichment services.

In addition, to assist non-custodial parents meet their child support obligations , county departments have the option to provide employment related services for the non-custodial parent when that parent's income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, his child is a recipient of Work First cash assistance, and he meets the other eligibility criteria.

Work First Benefits (WFB)

Effective October 1, 2009, the Work First program implemented a new process for issuing Work First cash assistance. This process is called Work First Benefits (WFB). All adults who are included in the assistance payment must have a Mutual Responsibility Plan of Action agreement that requires the individuals to work or participate in work-related activities.  These adults must complete all of the requirements on their agreement each month before receiving Work First cash assistance, unless there is a good cause.

Work First Benefits mirrors the working world, where individuals “work first” and receive payment for employment afterwards.  Work First Benefits was piloted in six (6) counties in which they were successful in improving North Carolina’s Work First participation rate.  Work First participation rates are required by federal standards and can affect funding for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

The North Carolina Division of Social Services worked with various agencies for more than a year to assist counties in preparing for the implementation of WFB.  Work First will continue to practice family centered principles to ensure that services are provided to families in need.

Work First State Plan (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

2016-2019 Work First State Plan

2013-2016 Work First State Plan

Work Verification Plan
Available for viewing and download is the Work Verification Plan effective 09/2008
Work Verification Plan*

*Please note the document is a pdf document that requires adobe reader. If you do not have adobe reader it can be downloaded at

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Page Modified 04/19/2017

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