Case Study of a Program Addressing Participants’ Barriers Before Providing Training and Other Work-Related Activities: Rhode Island Works

Publication Date: September 2, 2021
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  • Published: 2021


This case study describes Rhode Island Works (RI Works), the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which is administered by the Rhode Island Department of Human Services (DHS). The program was redesigned in 2018: now, before directing participants to look for jobs, RI Works connects them with supports to help them overcome barriers that keep them from succeeding in the workforce. RI Works participants can receive supportive services from one of four vendors and then, when they are ready to focus on employment, they can engage in vocational training and work readiness activities. This case study highlights how RI Works provides supportive services to help participants overcome their barriers, participate in employment-related activities, and find sustainable employment.

This case study is part of the State TANF Case Studies project, which is designed to expand the knowledge base on innovative approaches to help people with low incomes, including TANF recipients, prepare for and engage in work and increase their overall stability. Mathematica and its subcontractor, MEF Associates, were contracted by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to develop descriptive case studies of nine innovative state and local programs. The programs were chosen through a scan of the field and discussions with stakeholders. TANF practitioners and staff of other programs can learn about innovative practices through the case studies. The studies also can expand policymakers’ and researchers’ understanding of programs that support people’s success in work and highlight innovative practices to explore in future research.


The purpose of this case study is to describe RI Works in detail and highlight its key features: where RI Works operates; how it is administered; how participants experience the program; how RI Works uses data; and the program’s accomplishments and remaining challenges.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • RI Works’ main approach to serving people with low incomes is to provide wraparound supports to help them prepare for and engage in work.
  • RI Works’ primary services include developing a six-month employment plan with DHS staff and  referring participants to one of four vendors for supportive services; providing case management through vendor staff to identify participants’ barriers to employment—such as mental health issues, substance abuse, and the need for housing, transportation, and child care—and providing referrals and resources to help overcome the barriers.
  • Promising practices include actively monitoring vendors’ performance and enhancing coordination between them, using excess TANF funds to implement new services and programs, and prioritizing supportive services to improve participants’ chances of success on the job.


To select programs for case studies, the study team, in collaboration with ACF, first identified approaches that showed promise in providing employment-related services to individuals and linking them to wraparound supports, such as child care and transportation. The next step was to hold initial discussions with program leaders to learn more about their programs and gauge their interest in being featured in one of the case studies. Once the list of programs was narrowed, the project team, in collaboration with ACF, selected the final set of case study programs to reflect diversity in geography and focus population.

Two members of the research team visited two Rhode Island DHS offices and five vendor locations across the state. The two-and-a-half-day visit took place in January 2020. On the site visit, the team conducted semi-structured interviews with six DHS staff—including administrators and employment and career advisors—and 15 vendor administrators and case managers. The team conducted in-depth interviews with five participants from three different vendors and reviewed anonymized case files for two participants with their case managers, then held a follow-up telephone call with a program leader in July 2020 to learn how RI Works responded to the COVID-19 public health emergency.


Ochoa, L., and L. Rosenberg (2021). “Case study of a program addressing participants’ barriers before providing training and other work-related activities: Rhode Island Works.” OPRE Report #2021-65, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.