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Transition to new state employment training contract begins

Career Training Institute
Posted at 7:01 PM, Mar 22, 2024

HELENA — Earlier this year, Montana leaders announced they were awarding a national company a contract to provide training for people on several public assistance programs. It’s a big change from the current system, in which a number of local providers handled those services – and that’s already having a significant impact on some of those providers.

This week, Career Training Institute, a nonprofit in Helena, announced its board had made a difficult decision to close their doors. Career Futures, Inc., in Butte, told MTN they will also be closing.

The changes center on two key programs: TANF Pathways, which provides work training and case management for people receiving Temporary Aid for Needy Families – financial assistance to lower-income families with minor children – and SNAP Education and Training, which has similar goals, but serves people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Currently, about a dozen local contractors around the state operate TANF Pathways, and six do SNAP Employment and Training. However, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services announced last year that it was instead issuing a request for a single provider to handle both programs statewide.

The state received five applications – three from within Montana and two from outside companies. Leaders said the highest scoring was Maximus, a company headquartered in Virginia. They announced their intent to award Maximus the contract in January, then finished negotiations in February.

“The department is extremely, extremely excited about this move,” DPHHS Director Charlie Brereton told state lawmakers last week.

Charlie Brereton
Montana DPHHS Director Charlie Brereton addresses the Legislature's Children, Families, Health, and Human Services Interim Committee, March 12, 2024.

Brereton and Rachel Zietlow, a vice president with Maximus Workforce Services Practice, gave a presentation to the Legislature’s Children, Families, Health, and Human Services Interim Committee, updating them on the company’s plans for taking over TANF Pathways and SNAP E&T.

Brereton said there were many reasons the state wanted to change the model for these programs – one being consistency.

“Many of our clients were receiving different services or varying degrees of services, largely as a result of where they lived,” he said.

DPHHS also cited a desire to expand services to areas where they aren’t currently being provided – notably SNAP E&T, which has only been available in some counties, and which the department wanted to see statewide.

In addition, the new contract introduced a “pay-for-performance” model. Brereton said 20% of the contract budget – about $2.8 million – would be awarded based on how well Maximus achieves certain “pay points.” Those points include getting a client into a job, having them stay in or get promoted in that job, and helping them complete a GED or other educational achievement.

Brereton said the pay-for-performance model would improve accountability, share risk between the state and the contractor, and provide incentives to get clients on a path to long-term self-sufficiency.

Rachel Zietlow
Rachel Zietlow, a vice president with Maximus, addresses the Montana Legislature's Children, Families, Health, and Human Services Interim Committee about the company's plans for TANF Pathways and SNAP Education and Training programs, with DPHHS Director Charlie Brereton, March 12, 2024.

According to Brereton and Zietlow’s presentation, Maximus currently intends to operate five urban offices – in Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls, Helena and Missoula – along with 15 other service locations across the state, and potentially more “pop-up” locations in the future. In addition to those physical locations, they will offer statewide services for clients online or over the phone.

Brereton said he had heard a narrative that they were switching to all virtual services, which he called “patently false.”

“Ultimately, the department remains committed to meeting clients where and how most convenient,” he said. “So if a client wants to do the vast majority of their employment and training work with us in person, they are welcome to visit one of the bricks-and-mortar service delivery locations that I highlighted earlier. If the client is most comfortable working with their case manager and E&T partners via phone, they're able to do so, and if they want to conduct business with Maximus and the agency through video calls, through Teams, Zoom, etc., they will have an option to do so.”

Brereton said, as part of the contract, Maximus committed to putting at least $2 million toward subcontracting with local Montana providers.

“Maximus’s approach to service delivery includes bringing together and leveraging the strengths of different local providers to meet the needs of the TANF Pathways and SNAP Employment & Training program,” a DPHHS spokesperson said in a statement to MTN. “Maximus has already reached out to every current provider, as well as other nonprofits. They continue to welcome opportunities to meet with any community organization that is interested in subcontracting with them.”

Zietlow spoke more about the company’s interactions with local organizations during her presentation.

“I am confident that we will have several subcontracts, both with some current providers as well as some new entities who, for whatever reason, did not have a role previously formally in the program – but now under this, this new model will be able to bring them in,” she said.

Career Training Institute

However, not all of the current providers will be participating. Jasyn Harrington, executive director of Career Training Institute, released a letter this week, saying they had had a meeting with Maximus and “it was apparent that subcontracting would not be feasible.”

“This change has had a devastating impact on CTI‘s cost allocation plan and ability to sustain the administration of the agency’s other programs into the future,” Harrington wrote. “Therefore, after 4+ decades of successfully providing workforce development in the tri-county area, the CTI Executive Board had to make the difficult decision to begin the process of dissolving the Corporation. We will work to establish a firm closing date and put in place a plan of action.”

Sarah De Money, executive director of Career Futures, said it appeared Maximus’ model for case management would be significantly different that what her organization has done, and she didn’t feel a subcontract with them would help to keep Career Futures open.

“It is with a sad heart, that we have to close and dissolve the organization,” she wrote. “Please know, we fought the best we could, and we made an earnest effort in talking with Maximus.”

Leaders with Career Transitions, in Belgrade, said in a statement that they were interested in subcontracting, but that they were told Maximus already had another partner in their area. They said the Pathways and E&T contracts were a primary source of funding, even as they provided a number of other programs.

“However, funds and fees received for these programs do not cover the costs of the programs and our operations, so we must reassess our overall viability and are met with a difficult decision about trying to stay open for our community or closing our doors,” they said. “As a nonprofit organization, Career Transitions will now have to shift our approach and begin fundraising within the community and focus on grant writing with potential funders – an avenue we have not had to take before.”

All three of these providers expressed concerns about the impacts the new service model will have on clients and whether they will continue to get the individualized attention they need.

Brereton said the department believes Maximus will continue to do a good job of working with clients who need the most services and most intensive case management. He said the contract was structured to also make “ongoing engagement” a pay point, to ensure they had an incentive to work with complex cases.

“I have absolutely no doubt that Maximus will continue to serve those clients and remain focused on them, while also making progress with those that enter our public assistance system with less barriers to employment – because they've had educational opportunities, etc.,” he said.

Current providers’ contracts will end on June 30. Leaders said DPHHS is working with Maximus and those providers to put together a plan and timeline for transitioning clients to the new contractor. Maximus will be able to start accepting clients after April 1.

In addition to this contract, Maximus also administers the Montana Recovery Program under the state Department of Labor and Industry. They also provide financial consulting for government agencies in the state and work with colleges and universities on federal grants.