Initial Synthesis Report of the Findings from ASPE's "Leavers" Grants. State TANF Policies

01/04/2001

Under TANF block grants, states have substantial flexibility in determining the length of time families can receive cash assistance (time limits), the penalties for not complying with program rules (sanctions), and the generosity of cash grants as well as how benefits are reduced as a family moves from welfare to work. First, consider time limits. While none of the studies reviewed here include families whose benefits have already expired,(6) families subject to shorter time limits may feel pressure to leave welfare sooner than families that are years away from exhausting their benefits. Conversely, leavers who have nearly exhausted their benefits may be more reluctant to return. Out of the 12 sites, seven focus on leavers who are subject to the federal 60 month (5 year) life time time limit on benefits as of 1997 (see Table II.1). Georgia and Cuyahoga county have shorter life time limits-48 and 36 months, respectively.(7) And Arizona, Florida, and Illinois all have intermediate time limits, not only restricting the total number of months a family can receive benefits but also prohibiting a family from receiving their life time allotment over a single time period. For example, in Arizona, families can receive benefits for 24 months in any 60 month period.

 

Table II.1:
State Policies, 1997
State Time Limit Additional Time Limit Initial Sanction Maximum Sanction Maximum Benefit Earnings Disregards
Arizona 60 months 24 out of 60 months 25% for One month or until compliance, whichever is longer Entire Benefit for one month or until compliance, whichever is longer $347 $90 and 30% of remainder
District of Columbia 60 months   Adult Portion of benefit until compliance Adult Portion of benefit for six months or until compliance, whichever is longer $379 $100 and 50% of remainder
Florida 48 months 24 out of 60 months or 36 out of 72 months1 Entire Benefit until in compliance for 10 working days Entire benefit for three months or until in compliance for 10 working days, whichever is longer $303 $200 and 50% of the remainder
Georgia 48 months   25% until in compliance for 3 months Entire Benefit permanently $280 $120 and 33.3% of remainder for first 4 months, $120 next 8 months, $90 thereafter
Illinois 60 months 24 months followed by 24 months of ineligibility 50% until compliance Entire Benefit for three months or until compliance, whichever is longer $377 66.7%
Missouri 60 months   25% until compliance 25% for three months or until compliance, whichever is longer $292 $120 and 33.3% of remainder for first 4 months, $120 next 8 months, $90 thereafter.
New York 60 months    Adult Portion of benefit until compliance Pro-rata portion for six months $577 $90 and 45% of remainder
Washington 60 months   Adult Portion of benefit until compliance the greater of 40% or the adult portion until in compliance for 2 weeks $546 50%
Wisconsin2 60 months   Minimum Wage Times the Number of Hours of Nonparticipation until compliance Entire benefit permanently $628 None
Cuyahoga Co. 36 months   Adult Portion of benefit for one month Entire benefit for six months $362 $250 and 50% of remainder for first 18 months
Los Angeles Co. 60 months   Adult Portion of benefit until compliance Adult Portion of benefit for six months or until compliance, whichever is longer $611 $225 dollars and 50% of remainder
San Mateo Co. 60 months   Adult Portion of benefit until compliance Adult Portion of benefit for six months or until compliance, whichever is longer $611 $225 dollars and 50% of remainder
1The 24 out of 60 month limit applies to non-exempt recipients who have received less than 36 months of assistance during the previous 60 months and are either over age 24 or under age 24 with a high school diploma/GED.  The 36 out 72 month limit applies to non-exempt recipients who 1). have received benefits for 36 of the previous 60 months or 2). are under age 24, have not completed high school/ GED, are not enrolled in a high school equivalency program, and have little or no work experience.
2All of the policies reported are for the W-2 Transition component.
Sources: See Appendix B for a complete listing of the leavers studies referenced.
Data reported from Urban Institute's Welfare Rules Database.  All data are reported as of 7/97.

Next, consider states' sanction policies. In general, states impose tiered sanctions, beginning with less severe sanctions at first and escalating penalties for repeated instances of non-compliance. The states conducting leaver studies reviewed here tend to have less severe sanction policies than other states. Note that leavers who were sanctioned off the rolls may have a particularly hard time after exiting welfare and may return to TANF at higher rates as some sanctioned leavers come back into compliance with program requirements and rejoin the TANF rolls. Table II.1 shows the initial and maximum sanction in each of the ten states covered by the leaver studies. Focusing on the most severe sanction, we see that five of the ASPE leaver studies (Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, and Cuyahoga county) are based in states that impose full-family sanctions, removing the adult unit head and the children from the TANF rolls. Further, Wisconsin not only imposes a full-family sanction, but it is also a lifetime sanction; families that reach this point can never come back into compliance and return to cash assistance in Wisconsin.

Finally, consider differences in TANF generosity. Table II.1 shows the maximum TANF benefit a family of three can receive and the earned income disregards prevailing in the ten states covered by the ASPE leaver studies. California -- the site of both the Los Angeles and San Mateo studies -- clearly has the most generous policies, with a high maximum benefit and large earnings disregards while Wisconsin has high benefits but no earnings disregards. Cuyahoga county and Florida have modest benefits but generous earnings disregards, and New York and Washington have high benefits and earnings disregards that are slightly more generous than average.

While we have not reviewed every aspect of states' TANF policies (for example, we have ignored work requirements and diversion policies (8)), we can make some general observations about the policy context in which these 12 ASPE leaver studies are based. For example, California (LA and San Mateo studies), New York, and Washington generally pursued policies that would be expected to produce lower exit rates from welfare but higher incomes for those families that do leave. Conversely, Arizona and Georgia may move families off the welfare rolls faster but their leavers may face more difficulties. Finally, other studies are based in states that pursue a mix of policies that are likely to have offsetting effects on the outcomes of leavers-for example, Cuyahoga county has strict time limits and sanctions but very generous earnings disregards.