Tulsa’s IndEx Program

Business-Led Initiative for Welfare Reform and Economic Development

| Maria L. Buck

Enactment of the 1996 federal welfare legislation raised the stakes on helping welfare recipients find and keep jobs. Welfare recipients are now subject to time limits on their receipt of federal cash benefits, and states now receive fixed block grants of federal funds to provide assistance. These changes — when combined with the strict work requirements in the new law and the unprecedented flexibility states have to use their block grant funds — create strong incentives for states to dramatically increase the success of their efforts to move welfare recipients into jobs and to design more effective and efficient service delivery systems.

With these developments as a backdrop, MDRC has launched the Connections to Work project with support from The Rockefeller Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. One objective is to identify promising practices through a series of case studies focused on communities at the forefront of developing innovative approaches to connecting welfare recipients with jobs. Connections to Work will feature urban communities that are adopting one of two general strategies: (1) demand-driven approaches to education, training, and job placement with direct engagement of the business sector, particularly in areas of job growth, and (2) the use of competition in which public, private nonprofit, and private for-profit organizations compete for public funding to provide welfare recipients with employment preparation services and must meet specific performance standards centered on job placement and retention.

The first in this series of case studies, supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, profiles the IndEx program in Tulsa, Oklahoma. IndEx, a nonprofit subsidiary of the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, has a dual role. First, it serves as a community work experience placement site for welfare recipients on behalf of Tulsa companies involved in low-skill production and assembly work. Second, it functions as a job broker, using its clout in the business community to find IndEx participants permanent job placements.

This report traces the evolution of IndEx and its ability to adapt to changes in the policy environment and labor market. It captures the benefits of this business-led initiative, which attempts to simultaneously use welfare reform as an economic development tool to keep jobs in Tulsa, provide welfare recipients with a valuable work experience supplemented by education and training, and better respond to the labor market trends and entry-level hiring needs of Tulsa employers. The case study also highlights some of the major challenges: expanding business-led initiatives beyond small-scale programs, fortifying public-private partnerships that build on the strengths of both sectors, creating data management systems to track participation and outcomes, and finding the right balance between a private-sector work experience that both accommodates employers and teaches participants productive work-readiness skills — while at the same time protecting welfare recipients from being exploited.

For a full copy of this publication, please contact [email protected].