Washington WorkFirst: Home page

About WorkFirst

Photo of a woman and childGovernor Gregoire knows that “work is the best way to break the cycle of poverty for families.”

WorkFirst is Washington's welfare reform program designed to help parents get what they need to prepare for and go to work. It is a partnership between state agencies and communities to work together to provide the necessary services and resources families need to be successful. Across the state hundreds of local organizations and business partners are actively involved, they may include tribal governments, Workforce Development Councils, community action agencies, non-profit agencies of all types, schools, labor organizations, and childcare, transportation, mental health and substance abuse treatment providers.

The federal Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) of 2005 forced changes to the program. To learn more about those changes, link here.

The WorkFirst Partnership Structure

Roles and Responsibilities of State Agencies

The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) is the entry point and ongoing contact point for WorkFirst participants. Once establishing eligibility, the agency provides an orientation to the program and assigns parents a case manager who will work with them throughout the process, helping develop an Individual Responsibility Plan, encouraging participation towards the goal of getting a job, and arranging for support services, such as transportation, clothing and childcare, needed to get and keep a job.  DSHS provides employment services to Limited English proficient (LEP) parents in their primary language and in culturally appropriate ways.

The Department of Commerce (Commerce) works to strengthen communities to bolster WorkFirst's success. The agency promotes the state's economic health by attracting and expanding business, and assists individuals going into business themselves. The agency currently administers three employment based training programs to support WorkFirst participants in obtaining employment. The Community Jobs program works to combine issue resolution with work based learning to prepare the hardest to employ WorkFirst families for employment. The Job Connection/Career Jump program provides current work experience while combining job readiness activities to increase the participant’s employability. The Career Development program provides students with employment experience in their career field while they are enrolled in an education pathway. Commerce also provides support to 31 WorkFirst Local Planning Area Partnerships across the state.

The Department of Early Learning (DEL) oversees the Working Connections Child Care and Seasonal Child Care programs, which help eligible families pay for child care, including parents who participate in WorkFirst who are working and/or participating in work-focused activities that prepare them for work.

The Employment Security Department (ESD) role is to assist work ready WorkFirst participants make the employment connection. Participants complete a thorough comprehensive Work Skills Assessment to identify work skills, interests and abilities so the appropriate employment pathway can be determined. Participants engage in a variety of work readiness activities based on their individual employment goals. Activities include Key Train learning modules, job hunting workshops, job clubs, and one-on-one employment coaching sessions to keep the participant on track with their employment goals. In addition, participants are able to access other WorkSource resources like Job Fairs and Employer forums where they can learn about all local employment opportunities and increase their chances of making the best possible job connection. To learn more about ESD and the services they provide WorkFirst participants, click here.

The Office of Financial Management (OFM) is responsible for making WorkFirst budget recommendations to the Governor and monitoring budget and program performance. OFM produces forecasts of TANF caseloads, prepares budget estimates, and produces performance reports.

The State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) assures that training and basic skills education is available through the 34 community and technical colleges, 4 Community Based Organizations, and 2 private providers across the state. The community and technical colleges and contracted providers offer a range of vocational and High Wage High Demand training options that support WorkFirst parents engaging in career pathways leading to self-sufficiency. In addition, they also offer programs that integrate basic skills and English as a Second Language with workforce training and full-time, short-term customized training programs leading directly to employment.

Governance Structure

When WorkFirst began in 1997, it was decided that the heads of the partner agencies listed above would form the WorkFirst SubCabinet Structure. The group is chaired by the secretary of Department of Social & Health Services and meets several times a year to coordinate and make decisions about high-level policy and budget issues.

DSHS Economic Services Administration's (ESA) Program Briefing Book is your reference guide to WorkFirst programs, client demographics, caseloads, and expenditures. The book is updated annually and highlights information for each State Fiscal Year (SFY), the period of July through June. It also provides some historical data on WorkFirst.