SECTION 1. Section 18 of chapter 118 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2016 Official Edition 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; a vocational rehabilitation program, or an integrated education and training program.
SECTION 2. Chapter 118 is hereby further amended by inserting after section 19 the following sections:-
Section 20. (a) Notwithstanding prior screening or assessment, which may have been done at application or an eligibility review, the department shall conduct a contemporaneous 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 before denying, lowering, or stopping benefits for noncompliance with any applicable work-related, job search, or time limit requirements.
(b) If the screening reveals that the applicant or recipient has not completed a postsecondary training or education program that provided skills that qualify the applicant or recipient for appropriate and available local full time job openings, the department shall permit the applicant or recipient to meet all applicable work-related, job search, and time limit 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 applicant or recipient as having good cause not to meet applicable work-related, job search, or time limit requirements until the assessment is completed and the results provided in a report to the applicant or recipient. If the screening reveals a possible other disability, instead of or in addition to learning disability, the department shall advise the applicant or 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 meeting applicable work-related, job search, and time limit requirements, until and unless a program is identified and available to the recipient.
(d) If the screening reveals that the applicant or recipient’s housing situation or family or other circumstances currently may conflict with required work, job search, time limit, or other activities, the department shall offer the applicant or recipient an opportunity to request good cause to be temporarily excused from these requirements while the conflict exists.
(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 complying or cooperating with work-related, job search, or time limit 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 at 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 impose the work program sanctions provided in subsection 110(j) of chapter 5 of the acts of 1995, as amended by section 218 of chapter 149 of the actions of 2004, 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 3. The fourth paragraph of subsection (f) of section 110 of the acts of 1995, as amended by section 26 of chapter 158 of the acts of 2014, is hereby amended by striking out the paragraph and inserting in its place the following paragraph:-
The department shall allow recipients to request an extension of benefits up to three months before or at any time after termination of benefits under the provisions of this section and in connection with reapplying for benefits at any time after a termination of benefits under this section. The commissioner shall establish criteria to be considered in making a determination that a recipient’s benefits should be extended; provided however, that an extension of benefits shall not exceed 6 months without a request for renewal and approval by the department. Such criteria shall include, but not be limited to, whether:
(i) 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) the recipient has rejected offers of employment or quit or otherwise lost a job without good cause;
(iii) the recipient’s current lack of full time employment is attributable to lack of cooperation with the department without good cause;
(iv) appropriate job opportunities for which the recipient is qualified 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) the recipient has been provided with documented, specific and actually available education and training opportunities for which the recipient was qualified and sufficient time to participate in them as needed in order 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) the recipient needs child care and appropriate slots in local licensed child care programs are actually available; and
(vii) circumstances affecting the recipient or a family member pose significant barriers to full time employment. For the purposes of this subsection, “good cause” shall 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 4. The fourth 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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