SECTION 1. Section 2B of chapter 18 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after subsection (c) the following subsection:-
(d) As part of the program, the department of transitional assistance, in consultation with the department of elementary and secondary education, the department of labor and workforce development, the Commonwealth Corporation, local workforce investment boards and other local entities administering programs pursuant to the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, career centers, and other sources of relevant expertise, shall create and maintain up-to-date lists of the following types programs in the Commonwealth: programs for English-language learners, including English as a second or other language programs; adult basic education programs; high school diploma programs; high school equivalency programs; vocational or occupational skills training programs; and integrated education and training programs. The lists shall be broken out geographically and shall be used in all department local offices and available to all department applicants and recipients. The lists shall include, regarding each program: (i) a description of the program; (ii) whether the program is available at no charge to recipients of transitional aid and, if not, any sources of funding and financial aid available to pay for enrollment in the program; (iii) any criteria that must be met in order to qualify to enroll in the program; (iv) how to obtain more information about current or next openings in the program and the details of the program; and (v) in the case of vocational or occupational skills training programs, information about the jobs, if any, for which completion of the program would qualify the participant and, regarding such jobs, the program’s job placement and retention rates, starting pay, benefits, and typical work schedule.
SECTION 2. Section 18 of chapter 118 is hereby amended by striking out the first sentence and inserting in place of it the following sentence:-
Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, an education or training activity for the purpose of meeting any work-related requirements of the transitional aid to families with dependent children shall be defined as participation in any of the following: a 4-year college degree program, associate’s degree program, or certificate program at a college, university, or other postsecondary educational institution; a program for English-language learners, including an English as a second or other language program; an adult basic education program; a high school diploma program; a high school equivalency program; a vocational or occupational skills training programs; or an integrated education and training program.
SECTION 3. Chapter 118 is hereby further amended by inserting after section 20 the following sections:-
Section 21. (a) The department shall conduct screening to identify needs, barriers to employment or participation in work activities, possible eligibility for exemptions, and information relevant to vocational planning for recipients of transitional aid to families with dependent children as soon as feasible but in any event before denying, lowering, or stopping benefits for noncompliance with any work-related requirement.
(b) If the screening reveals that the recipient has not completed a postsecondary training or education program that provided skills that qualify the recipient for appropriate and available local full time job openings, the department shall permit the recipient to meet all applicable work-related requirements through a program that provides education or specific vocational or occupational skills training.
(c) If the screening reveals possible learning disability, the department shall offer and encourage a learning disability assessment by a trained professional and shall treat the recipient as having good cause not to participate in otherwise required work, job search, education, or training activities until the assessment is completed and the results provided in a report to the recipient. If the screening reveals a possible other disability, instead of or in addition to learning disability, the department shall advise the recipient of the option to request a disability exemption. If the assessment determines that the recipient has a learning disability, the department shall offer the recipient a referral to an education or training program with staff qualified to work with individuals with learning disabilities; provided that if an appropriate program is not available and the recipient is not exempt from the work requirement, the department shall accord good cause to the recipient for not engaging in other activities to meet work-related requirements, until and unless a program is identified and available to the recipient.
(d) If the screening reveals that the recipient’s housing situation or family or other circumstances currently may conflict with job search, employment, or attending a program, the department shall offer the recipient an opportunity to request good cause not to engage in activities to meet work-related requirements.
(e) The department, its agents, and vendors that it funds shall take into account the results of the screening of the recipient in establishing economic independence goals or employment development plans and in determining referrals to education and training programs.
(f) The department shall not deny, lower, or stop benefits on the grounds of not meeting work-related requirements unless the department has identified a work activity that is consistent with the results of the screening conducted pursuant to this section, that is actually available to the recipient, and for which there is no cost to the recipient.
(g) The department shall not deny, lower, or stop benefits on the grounds that the recipient did not participate in the screening; however, the department may deny, lower, or stop benefits if the recipient refuses to participate in a screening and subsequently does not meet work-related requirements without good cause. The department shall contact the recipient to inquire into good cause before determining that good cause does not exist.
SECTION 4. The fourth paragraph of subsection (f) of section 110 of the acts of 1995, as amended by section 26 of chapter158 of the acts of 2014, is hereby amended by striking out the paragraph and inserting in its place the following paragraph:-
The commissioner shall establish criteria to be considered in making a determination that a recipients benefits should be extended; provided however, that an extension of benefits shall not exceed 3 months. Such criteria shall include, but not be limited to: (i) whether without an extension the recipient’s family will lack the resources necessary for basic needs, including, but not limited to, housing, utilities, and clothing; (ii) whether the recipient has rejected offers of employment or quit or otherwise lost a job without good cause; (iii) whether the recipient’s current lack of full time employment is attributable to lack of cooperation with the department without good cause; (iv) whether appropriate job opportunities for which the recipient is qualified actually currently exist and the recipient has been assisted in the steps necessary to obtain such a job; however, an employer’s decision not to hire the recipient shall not be held against the recipient; (v) whether the recipient has been provided with appropriate education and training opportunities and sufficient time to participate in them as needed to qualify for appropriate and available local full time job openings, however a recipient’s lack of success in an education and training program for good cause or due to no fault of the recipient shall not be held against the recipient; (vi) whether the recipient needs child care and appropriate slots in local licensed child care programs are actually available; and (vii) whether circumstances affecting the recipient or a family member pose significant barriers to full time employment. For the purposes of this subsection, “good cause” shall be construed to include the good cause reasons listed in subsection (j) of section 110 of chapter 5 of the acts of 1995, as amended by section 218 of chapter 149 of the acts of 2004, and any other reasons that are acceptable in light of the particular circumstances and characteristics of the recipient and the recipient’s family.
SECTION 5. The third paragraph of subsection (j) of section 110 of chapter 5 of the acts of 1995, as appearing in section 28 of chapter 158 of the acts of 2014, is hereby amended by striking out the paragraph and inserting in place of it the following paragraph:-
The department may extend the duration of the education or training activity eligible to meet the work requirement if the department determines, using performance standards established by the department, that the individual is making substantial progress towards completion of the program. If the department determines that an individual is not making substantial progress towards completion of the program without good cause, the individual shall no longer be eligible for the extension of the duration of the activity.
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