WorkFirst HandBook

Engaging Parents in WorkFirst

1.2 Required Participation

Legal References:

The Required Participation section includes:

1.2.1 What is participation and how is it counted?

Individuals are required to participate in work or work-related activities full-time, which is defined as "getting as close as possible to 40 hours per week," with a goal of at least 32 hours a week for most parents. In order to develop a full-time Individual Responsibility Plan (IRP) we count the actual hours involved in an activity. When working with the parent to develop the IRP, it is very important that we make every effort to reach 40 hours of activities per week.

Work with the parents who are not in full-time (32-40 hours) activity(ies) to ensure that every hour of activity is properly recorded in the IRP, as close to 40 hours a week as possible, with a minimum of 32 hours. See the 3.3, Individual Responsibility Plan, section for more information on Individual Responsibility Plans.

Federal rules reduce funding for states that fail to meet a federal work participation rate. To meet the rate, states must have a percentage of parents in the required number of hours of countable activities each month. The percentage is higher for two parent families.

To be a two-parent family, neither parent can be:

Federal rules define activities as "core" or "non-core". As shown on the Core & Non-core Activity chart, some core activities only count for a limited amount of time.

1.2.2 What are the WorkFirst participation requirements?

The chart below shows WorkFirst requirements for parents and teens that are able to participate. Most parents' hourly requirements are still 32-40 hours per week. In most cases, however, at least 20 of those hours must be in core activities.

Most parents will be expected to meet the requirements in row 1. However, WorkFirst does not require the following to participate in core activities (rows 4 and 5 below):

Who Core Activity Requirements Core or Non-core Activity Requirements Total

1. Each parent or needy caretaker relative


12-20 hr/wk

32-40 hr/wk

2.Qualifying parents in a two-parent household


5 hr/wk

35 hr/wk

3. Single parent with a child under 6

20 hr/wk

None (additional hours are voluntary)

20 hr/wk

4. Pregnancy to Employment Infant Exemption



None (exempt)

5. Teen head of households (age 19 or younger) that do not have a High School Diploma or GED


20 hr/wk HS, GE or BE

20 hr/wk

1.2.3 What are the strengthened participation requirements?

Many parents fail to meet the federal participation rate for a month due to absences and because of the way the monthly rate is calculated. To help more clients meet federal requirements, staff must require an additional three hours (preferably core activity hours) in the parent’s IRP when possible.
The strengthened participation requirements are as follows:

The following guidelines apply:

Example #1:

Nancy is a single parent with no children under six and is in a full-time vocational education program. The college she is attending has a 35 hour per week vocational education program in her field of study. Her education plan shows she is scheduled to participate in VE for 35 hours per week. Because she is scheduled for between 33 and 40 hours per week of participation, this is a preferred activity plan.

Judy is pursuing a specialized certificate program taking 15 credits (which is 15 hours per week of class time), has 15 hours per week of homework and has two hours per week of lab time. Her education plan shows she is scheduled to participate in VE for 32 hours per week.  This is acceptable even though it does not meet the minimum 33 hours per week participation requirement because adding hours in her case is not feasible.

Example #2:

Sharon is a single parent with a ten year old child.  She has five hours per week of unsubsidized employment, and is participating 12 hours per week in a high school equivalency program.  Staff add 18 hours of job search to meet her minimum core hours of 23 and 35 hours total per week.

Sharon loses her job and completes her high school equivalency and moves to full-time job search of 33 hours per week.

Then, the father of Sharon’s child returns to the home and they qualify for the two-parent participation options. The decision is made that Sharon will continue participating and the other parent will opt out of participation. Since the father is opting out, Sharon’s job search hours will now be 38 hours per week to meet the strengthened participation requirements for a two-parent household.

Example #3:

Tom is a single parent raising a teen-age son.  He is in Community Works and his FLSA maximum is 25 hours per week. Staff schedule him for 23 hours of Community Works to meet his core requirement under strengthened participation rules. He is also doing 10 hours per week of high school equivalency for a total of 33 hours per week participation.

In a different scenario, Tom’s FLSA maximum is 16 hours per week.  Under deeming, this will meet his 20 hours of core activity, but we cannot require any additional hours of Community Works.  There is a Life Skills class available, so staff schedule him for 3 hours of LS per week to meet his core requirement of 23 hours.

In a third scenario, Tom’s FLSA maximum is still 16 hours per week, but there is no Life Skills class or other core activity available that can be added to the 20 hours (using deeming) of Community Works to bring his core activity up to 23 hours per week. He has been doing 10 hours per week of high school equivalency at the local community college.  College staff agreed to provide an additional three hours by enrolling Tom in a study hall to meet the strengthened participation requirements.

1.2.4 What are the participation requirements for two-parent households?

The participation standard for two-parent households is full-time (32-40 hours per week) for each parent.  However, under some circumstances, we can allow a household to choose a two-parent option.
Two-parent options are available to two-parent families who are:

Use these options when appropriate to assist two-parent families towards family stability and self sufficiency.

In order to utilize the two-parent options, a conversation must occur with the family in order to determine whether this option is appropriate for their household and to determine if one parent may opt out of participation.  The conversation must be focused on the whole family to determine the best participation option for the family to reach self sufficiency. 

The two-parent options are only to be used when both parents are in full compliance with WorkFirst requirements.  Any time one or both of the parents utilizing the two-parent option falls out of compliance, the household will revert back to the full time participation standard for each individual.

Option One: Qualifying two-parent families may choose to have one parent opt out of participation requirements to stay home and care for the children as long as:

If the WFPS or WFSSS and the TANF family determine that this option is appropriate, the voluntary parent’s time spent in treatment can be used to help meet the family’s work participation requirements. If the participating parent stops participating as required without good cause, pursue sanction and send an appointment letter to the parent who was opting to stay home scheduling him or her for an appointment to develop an IRP.

If an appropriate two-parent household chooses to take Option One, has a child under 12 months old and is not required to participate due to mandatory mental health and/or chemical dependency treatment, one parent can opt out of participation instead of using their IE exemption. Parents must still follow the P to E pathway policy, including completing the mandatory assessments, before the opt-out option can be considered.  This family would still be subject to all of the requirements under option one, including that the parent not opting out must participate 35 hours per week.

Option Two: In some cases, it may be the best option for the family to split the 35 hours per week participation requirement between both parents, as long as:

If one parent ceases to participate without good cause, pursue sanction and send an appointment letter to the other parent to come in for an appointment to build a full time IRP.

1.2.5 What is the participation requirement for single parents with a child under 6?

For single parents with a child under the age of six, the participation requirement is 20 hours per week in a core activity.  Parents must be participating satisfactorily; if a parent is in sanction, the sanction must be cured to avoid Non-Compliance Sanction termination. 

Parents are allowed to voluntarily participate for more than 20 hours per week.  Parents who wish to participate in activities that are full time by definition must be willing to volunteer to participate full time.  These full time activities include:

1.2.6 How do we determine the best employment pathway?

Everyone has skills and abilities needed in today's workforce. Weaving those skills and abilities with labor market realities and education levels is the cornerstone of the CE. It is designed to achieve better and quicker engagement in employment-related activities.

The CE will be a key tool in leading parents directly to employment and job search will continue to be the most appropriate pathway for the majority of parents. For other parents, the CE will lead to employment through activities like Job Connection, education or Community Jobs.

The WorkFirst Program Specialist refers the parent to the appropriate employment pathway identified by the CE using the appropriate code(s). The pathways include:

See section 3.2 and the "Comprehensive Evaluation Referral Criteria" document in the Resources section below for pathway details.

The information gained from the CE will also be available to the WorkFirst partners and the parent to ensure that the parent is engaged in the employment pathway that will move them most effectively toward self-sufficiency.

If at any time there is an indication or the family discloses involvement with Children's Administration (CA) and/or the Department of Corrections (DOC) we must work collaboratively to address the needs of the parents and children.

Families involved with CA and/or DOC may be required to do activities like counseling or treatment to help keep their families together. It's critical to take these activities into consideration when developing the parent's IRP and add these activities as a WorkFirst participation requirement as appropriate. We want to make sure that WorkFirst requirements do not interfere with the activities parents are taking to comply with CA and/or DOC requirements and resolve their family issues and emergencies.

Participation Example #1
After a newly approved WorkFirst parent completes the CE, she or he will start with full-time employment services of 33 hours per week as their first activity. Full-time and part-time employment service activities and attendance are defined and directed by Employment Security staff. See 4.2 Job Preparation/Work Search section for more information on job search.

Participation Example #2
The WorkFirst parent is working 25 hours a week at a local restaurant and is also in an approved educational component for 10 hours a week. Record the actual number of hours for each activity in the IRP and input the number of hours for each component on the component screen in eJAS, for a total of 35 hours a week of participation

Participation Example #3
The WorkFirst parent is able to participate full time but is involved in the DOC “Community Parenting Alternative” program. The parent is subject to electronic home monitoring and is only allowed to leave the home to participate in required DOC activities which include substance abuse treatment and parenting classes. The WFPS verifies these activities with the DOC Community Corrections Officer and records the actual number of hours for each activity in the IRP and inputs the number of hours for each component on the component screen in eJAS.  

1.2.7 When can someone participate in the various WorkFirst activities?

Unless the CE indicates otherwise, employment services are the first activity for almost everyone. The CE is the key tool in leading parents to employment through job search, education, or other employment pathway activities like Job Connection or Community Jobs approved by the WorkFirst Program Specialist (WFPS) or WorkFirst Social Service Specialist.

For individuals who are not successful in job related activities, it is important to determine what factors may be contributing to the lack of success. The person may have an undisclosed disability or deficit and you cannot provide assistance without knowing what obstacles he or she is facing. Inform the person that you want to see him or her succeed and that support services are available for people needing special consideration. Ask whether circumstances have changed and/or has the person disclosed all information that may be affecting his or her success.

1.2.8 What does participation look like for families in crisis situations?

Consideration and action will be taken for those families in crisis/issue resolution situations that will be counted as full-time participation. The WFPS can develop an IRP with the parent that specifically addresses the crisis issues. When necessary, consult with expert personnel for assistance, including Social Service Specialists, tribal representatives, family violence specialists, and other WFPS or supervisors. This should be done when assistance and expertise is needed to develop specific steps the person should take to mitigate his or her circumstances.

Parents living or working in an area impacted by a declared disaster may have their abilities to participate in WorkFirst activities affected. Please click here for a step-by-step guide for Disaster Impact (DI).

Both state and federal rules recognize that not all parents will be able to participate all the time. It is important that we stabilize families, resolve issues and provide parents with exemptions when that is the best plan for the family.

Deferrals and exemptions will not necessarily make it harder to meet the federal rate. As shown on the WorkFirst Stacking Strategy chart , some exempt parents qualify for federal exemptions and parents in countable "X" codes may be able to add enough participation hours to meet federal participation requirements.

If a parent has an urgent issue, such as family safety, he or she will be directed to the Social Service Specialist after the CE via the Issue Resolution pathway for assessment and services. The Social Service Specialist will address the immediate need as well as determine appropriate participation activities. These actions must be outlined when the IRP is developed.

Be sure that the person understands how and when to report progress or lack of progress in completing the steps outlined in the IRP. Completion of the activities outlined in the IRP will constitute required participation until the SSS determines the issue is resolved or other activities are added to the IRP.

1.2.9 What are contracted services?

Some individuals are referred to contractors to receive specific services. These contractors include community or faith-based organizations, for profit providers, and others. Contractors provide services that are not otherwise available through the partner agencies. They may focus on barriers or issues that need to be addressed so individuals can be supported in finding and keeping employment. Contractors need to be notified of and provide any necessary accommodations.

WorkFirst has established strong certification standards for contractors and service providers. Contractors and service provides must meet the standards to obtain WorkFirst certification which occurs during the contracting process. Contractors must meet the standards for reporting to the WFPS or WFSSS by providing monthly verification reports. Contractors must report non-participation immediately.

1.2.10 What if someone is not exempt but cannot participate in regular employment service activities?

Some individuals may need specialized services to participate and progress to self-sufficiency. For example, a person with a physical impairment that is not considered a condition that would exempt him or her from participation, might best participate with experts who can provide specific vocational services, such as the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR).

Coordinate with the DVR counselor or other professionals when the parent is on a waiting list for services such as alcohol treatment or DVR. In many cases, all that can be reasonably expected would be that the person completes all necessary applications and prepares for acceptance into another program such as DVR or SSI. Through consultation with WorkFirst Social Service Specialists and other professionals, determine the appropriate activities and level of participation while the person is awaiting services. For example, an individual may be able to participate in activities such as alcohol/substance abuse/chemical dependency treatment, parenting classes, counseling, adult education, and/or money management education. Similarly, parents who need DVR services may be able to work part-time in an entry-level job while waiting for the services that will help them obtain career employment.

Some individuals may not be able to participate in employment service activities because they are working with CA. Parents working with child protective services may have court appointments, counseling, treatment or other activities that they are required to attend. If at any time there is an indication or the family discloses involvement with CA, it is critical to take these activities into consideration when developing the parent's IRP.

Some individuals may also not be able to participate in employment service activities because they are working with DOC in a sentencing alternative program. An offender who is accepted into the “Family Offender Sentencing Alternative (FOSA)” program will be under community custody supervision and those in the DOC “Community Parenting Alternative (CPA)” program will be subject to electronic home monitoring. Offenders in either program will report to a specialized DOC Community Corrections Officer (CCO) and are only allowed to leave the home to participate in required activities such as mental health or chemical dependency treatment, parenting classes, work, vocational education, life skills, or other similar productive activities that are permitted by DOC. It is critical to collaborate and coordinate with DOC and take these activities into consideration when developing the parent’s IRP.

1.2.11 What are the WorkFirst requirements for dependent teens and pregnant or parenting minors?

Dependent teens and young adults who are on an adult's WorkFirst cash assistance grant are not required to do an IRP or verify school attendance.

The following chart summarizes the CE, IRP, participation, and verification requirements for dependent teens/young adults and teen head of households:

Age Dependent Teen Teen Head of Household
Federal Reporting Not included in the work participation rate. Included in the work participation rate.
13-19 Parent's responsibility to ensure the child is in school. No IRP required.

20 hours per week HS, GE or BE is required unless exempt.

  • Must verify actual hours of high school attendance monthly.
  • IRP required.
  • No CE Required
Upon Graduation N/A Same as adult parents and needy caretaker relatives:
  • Participate 32-40 hours per week:
    • 20 hours core, and
    • 12-20 hours core or non-core.
  • Must do CE & IRP.

Dependent teens are part of an adult's WorkFirst cash assistance grant. It is the parent's responsibility to ensure the child is in school. There are no WorkFirst requirements for these teens. However, if a child is not enrolled in school a referral to Children's Administration (CA) is appropriate.

Some teens and young adults must go to school and/or be in an approved living arrangement as a condition of TANF/SFA eligibility. See these sections of the EAZ Manual for more information:

1.2.12 Home Schooling

Teens and young adults that are home schooled can meet the WorkFirst participation requirement for schooling when it is approved by the household's local school district and meets the state law requirements. See RCW 28A.200 for more information .

When a parent reports they are providing, or intend to provide home-based instruction, they must submit a signed statement to the school district declaring their intent to home school. This is a yearly requirement. Once this document is filed and a copy provided to the WFPS, then the home schooling can be added to the IRP.

Home schooling is WorkFirst participation for the child only. A parent or guardian providing the home schooling cannot satisfy WorkFirst participation requirements by providing the instruction.

1.2.13 eJAS/ACES codes
1.2.14 Participation - Step-by-Step Guide

Refer to the IRP section for a step-by-step guide to regular participation. For all others, the WFPS or WFSSS looks at the age of all assistance unit members to determine participation.

Related WorkFirst Handbook Sections
Other Resources