Utah makes life easier for job seekers; Illinois can, too

Utah makes life easier for job seekers; Illinois can, too

Utah consolidated and integrated government job and social services into a one-stop shop. Illinois can follow that example and efficiently pull more people out of poverty and into the working world.

Complicated, difficult-to-navigate government job and social service programs keep Illinoisans from moving out of poverty and up the economic ladder.

There are more than 40 federal employment and training programs that offer similar services to similar populations. Most states have multiple state agencies that allocate federal resources and adhere to different regulations and rules. This results in a duplicative, inefficient system that is “rarely coordinated, sending potential recipients on a goose chase.”

According to the Illinois Department of Commerce, the state has nine primary workforce development programs that each administers dozens of additional opportunities and services.

Managing workforce services more effectively can help empower more people to lift themselves out of poverty, according to the Illinois Policy Institute’s report on poverty in Chicago. Utah’s successful “one door” approach to social services offers Illinois a blueprint.

According to the American Enterprise Institute, a 1992 audit of Utah’s 23 workforce programs administered by six state agencies revealed system fragmentation. That made it difficult for disadvantaged residents to access important services. Since then, Utah has worked to integrate employment, workforce and training programs to allow for more effective and efficient workforce development.

In 1996, the Utah state legislature passed legislation creating the Department of Workforce Services. It is the single, statewide authority that operates all public assistance and workforce programs in Utah.

Since this legislation was passed before the federal Workforce Investment Partnership Act of 1998, which forbids states from consolidating their workforce programs, Utah’s program is grandfathered in. The state is able to maintain a “single-state designation” under the act and the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014.

Utah employs a customer service model, whereby people seeking public assistance are referred to as “customers” and assigned a single case manager and team. The case managers determine the services that are most applicable to customers’ individual situations and best suited to help them find work. Case managers provide job coaching and skills assessments, and customers only must enter “one door” to receive assistance. Since accountability, funding and performance are overseen at the state level, Utah’s “one stop” shop is effective at getting people the work they need.

Utah’s model is a success. Since 1998, Utah has “integrated all programs with employment and training responsibilities into one state agency,” including Medicaid, SNAP, TANF and more. According to the Archbridge Institute, Utah is ranked No. 1 in the country for social mobility. Illinois is ranked 40th.

Workforce services administrative reform in Illinois must begin at the federal level, which requires Congress to act. In February 2024, U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-UT, introduced the One Door to Work Act, which would grant states the flexibility to implement Utah’s effective model of consolidating federal social safety net and workforce development programs within a single state agency. No action has been taken on the bill since it was referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in February.

Chicago and Illinois lawmakers must lobby the federal government to open more waivers to states who want to innovate and streamline their workforce service programs. Once states can implement Utah’s model, Illinois must make administrative changes to integrate programs and allow for the efficient distribution of resources.

Such changes include adopting a “no wrong door” policy. Illinoisans should receive help at any administrative office without being bounced around.

If federal and state lawmakers act, Utah’s success story can be replicated in Illinois.

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