Families on TANF in Illinois: Employment Assets and Liabilities. Welfare Experiences


To gain a general sense of the welfare experiences of single-parent cases that were on TANF in November 2001, this section describes the duration of assistance, sanction status, and time-limit status of the subject cases. As appropriate, it describes the characteristics and experiences of those cases, their adult heads, or their households.

  • Nearly two-fifths of current TANF cases have received cash assistance continuously for more than two years.

Thirty-nine percent of single-parent TANF cases in Illinois have been on assistance continuously for more than two years, having received benefits in each of the past 25 months (Figure II. 1). This share is somewhat lower than the 47 percent reported from a study of the TANF population of the nation as a whole based on data from the 1999 National Survey of American Families (Zedlewski and Alderson 2001). Long-term recipients always comprise a substantial share of the caseload at any point in time, even while, over time, the majority of TANF cases may be of short duration.

Figure II.1 Percentage of Last 25 Months Received TANF. Figure II.2 Duration of Current Spell on TANF

A substantial portion (42 percent) of single-parent cases in Illinois have current TANF spells of a year or less (Figure II.2). Current spells on TANF are extremely short--six months or less--for 26 percent of recipients. Another 16 percent have current spells of 7 to 12 months. Some of the cases with current spells under one year are short-term recipients who need TANF to see them through a brief period, while some are "cyclers" who move on and off TANF over time. For example, we see in Figure II.1 that 30 percent of cases have received TANF for less than half of the past 25 months (or about 12 months), a lower share than those whose current spell is under a year in Figure II.2. Cyclers account for this difference. The median duration of the current TANF spell for all single-parent cases is 16 months.

  • One in every four TANF cases has experienced a sanction.

In Illinois, as in most states, TANF recipients face sanctions, or reductions in their cash grant, for failure either to participate in a required activity or to cooperate with child support enforcement. Sanctions in Illinois become more severe as noncompliance persists. Initially, the cash grant is reduced by 50 percent; after three months of noncompliance, it is eliminated altogether (Illinois Department of Human Services 1999). With the third instance of noncompliance, the state immediately imposes a full-grant sanction that must remain in place for at least three months. Overall, 26 percent of TANF cases have experienced a sanction, with almost all attributable to failure to participate in a required activity (Figure II.3). Of the sanctioned cases, 9 percent have experienced a full-grant sanction (results not shown).

Figure II.3 TANF Sanctions. Figure II.4 Elasped Time on 60-month TANF Clock

  • The TANF 60-month clock has been stopped for one in every four TANF cases.

In Illinois, any month in which the head of a single-parent case consistently works 30 or more hours per week, attends a postsecondary degree program full time, or provides full-time care for a related child under age 18 or a spouse because of a medical condition does not count toward the 60-month TANF time limit (Illinois Department of Human Services 2002).(1) The TANF clock has been stopped for 26 percent of single-parent cases.(2)

Stopping the clock rewards those who are working by indefinitely supplementing their wages as long as they continue to work at least 30 hours per week. For example, a recipient who has received cash assistance for 18 months and has worked 30 hours per week for 6 of those months would log not 18 but 12 months on her TANF benefits clock. Only three percent of TANF recipients in Illinois have more than 48 months on their benefits clock and, hence, less than one year during which they can receive TANF without working or attending school (Figure II.4).(3) Most recipients (58 percent) have logged no more than 24 months on their benefits clock. The median elapsed time for all single-parent cases is 20 months.

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