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Paying for Integrated Pathways: SNAP Education and Training Funds in Washington

This post explores an example of a state funding solution to support integrated career pathways. Work like this is part of our Accelerating Opportunity initiative, which leads more underserved learners through Adult Basic Education to a credential of value in the labor market through these pathways. Washington has found a solution through the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education and Training (SNAP E&T). 

For more information, read about why it is important to create a policy environment that is conducive to the success of programs like Accelerating Opportunity and I-BEST and why state-level solutions for support like this one are so critical. 

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We at JFF are encouraged by the innovative work some states are doing to finance integrated career pathways. These states understand that state-level investments to help low-income individuals move into careers can in turn increase state tax revenues. Washington has found such a solution through the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education and Training (SNAP E&T), an offshoot of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

SNAP E&T, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, began as a means of providing low-income adults and families, a traditionally underserved population, with access to employment and training. In Washington this program is known as Basic Food Employment and Training, or BFET. Because federal regulations disallow Basic Food recipients from receiving education and training through other federal funding sources, BFET funding presents a unique opportunity for Basic Food recipients to access the services they need to become economically self-sufficient. BFET funds are used to support students participating in career and technical training, such as Washington’s integrated pathways programs (I-BEST). Funds provide access to assessments, case management, job readiness and training, job search assistance, job placement, and reimbursements for services such as transportation, childcare, housing, and clothing. While BFET can serve as an alternative funding source for a student’s full program (including tuition) it is more typically used as “bridge” funding until a student finds an alternative funding source, such as Pell grants or scholarships. 

Originally piloted with 1 community college and 4 community-based organizations as a partnership between the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, the Department of Social and Health Services and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the BFET program is now offered by all 34 of the state’s community and technical colleges, with the participation of over 30 community-based organizations. Since 2011, the program has secured $56 million in federal funding and served over 45,000 participants, many of them participants in integrated pathways programs who would have otherwise been unable to afford tuition and other costs. Data on specific cohorts of BFET participants collected by Washington state’s Employment Security Office show that 74 percent have obtained employment with a median hourly wage of about $11 per hour.

This innovative use of BFET funds is an outgrowth of a  partnership between the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, the Department of Social and Health Services, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a few community-based organizations, and one community college. The program allowed partners to coordinate their efforts, with the community college providing education and training and the community-based organizations providing wraparound support services. The Department of Social and Health Services led the partnership in applying for federal funding which, in addition to reimbursing the partners, was used to reinvest in the program.    

Earlier this year, Congress reauthorized SNAP as part of the Agricultural Act of 2014, or Farm Bill. The reauthorization includes $200 million for the creation of pilot projects to test innovative strategies to help SNAP recipients attain the necessary skills and training to obtain family-supporting jobs. Ten states will be selected to receive funding. This opportunity—applications were due at the end of November—will enable states to build or expand partnerships between health and human services, colleges, community-based organizations, and other stakeholders seeking to successfully serve lower-skilled adults. These partnerships can use SNAP E&T funds to support a variety of education, training, employment, and related services for SNAP recipients.

To learn more about SNAP E&T funds and other policy innovations related to career pathways programs, click here to request access to the Accelerating Opportunity Braided Funding Toolkit. The toolkit contains a collection of innovative state and institutional level policy changes and funding strategies created and implemented by Accelerating Opportunity participant colleges. It also includes guidance and information on how to identify and weave together multiple state, local, and federal resources to support integrated career pathways programs.

Photograph courtesy of CareerEdge, 2011

Read our next post on Illinois' performance-based funding system.