Review of Sanction Policies and Research Studies. The Interaction with Other State TANF Work-Related Policies

03/10/2003

The role sanctions play in welfare reform may be influenced not only by the structure and cost of sanctions, but also by the context in which they are applied. There are two factors that appear particularly important in understanding the reach and imposition of sanctions. The first is the presence of any pre-approval work-related requirements, and the second is the state's approach to exemptions (see Table 2).

Pre-approval work-related requirements are important to consider because their use may result in a state not opening cases that in another might be opened and eventually sanctioned. When benefits are denied because an applicant does not complete the pre-approval requirements, these requirements function almost as an immediate full-family sanction, although the family never receives TANF benefits. More families could end up being sanctioned in states that do not have pre-approval requirements simply because more families were successful in opening a TANF case. Most states have implemented at least one of these pre-approval options--including attending an orientation, signing an employability plan or a personal responsibility contract, and completing applicant job search requirements--and many have implemented more than one (see Appendix D).

A second contextual issue that is important in understanding the role of sanctions in welfare reform is the proportion of the caseload subject to work requirements. When considered for the caseload as a whole, a low incidence of sanctions could signal many things, including the possibility that relatively fewer people are subject to work requirements and therefore at risk of being sanctioned.

What work requirements a state imposes upon families with young children is a key determinant of the proportion of the caseload that is potentially at risk of being sanctioned. The majority of states (28) require all families with a child over the age of one to participate in work activities (see Table 2). Four states require all families to participate and 13 require families with children over the age of four months to participate. Only 6 states do not require families to participate until their youngest child is older than 12 months

A second factor that influences the proportion of the caseload that is required to participate in work activities and, therefore, subject to sanctions, is a state's treatment of families facing various personal and family challenges. In an effort to understand the choices states were making regarding participation in program activities for these families, several years ago, the Urban Institute classified states into three groups based on their treatment of people who had previously been exempt from program participation because of their own or a family member's disability or illness (Thompson et al. 2000). Using their classification, thirteen states have adopted universal work participation requirements, meaning that they expect nearly everyone to participate in program activities; in many cases the activities that count towards participation in these states are broader than in other states, including activities such as substance abuse and mental health treatment. In these states, case managers also often have considerable flexibility in defining the amount and types of required activities and in granting exemptions from the work requirements. The remaining states that could be categorized fell into two groups of equal size; the first group continued to use the pre-TANF JOBS program participation categories and the second adopted participation requirements that were broader than the JOBS program, but did not expect everyone to participate. In states that use the JOBS criteria for identifying who is required to participate in work activities, families are exempt from program participation if they are ill or capacitated or caring for an ill or capacitated household member. In these states, staff generally relies on local medical professional to document a recipient's inability to participate. States that adopted broader participation requirements than the JOBS program often grant fewer formal exemptions but still maintain a process for identifying recipients who may experience various personal or family challenges that might interfere with their ability to find or sustain employment.

 

Table 2.
Other TANF Work-Related Policies Influencing the Role of Sanctions in Welfare Reform
TANF Work-Related Policy Number of States
Pre-employment Requirements (any) 28
Signed Employability Plan 6
Signed Personal Responsibility Contract 14
Mandatory Orientation 5
Applicant Job Search 16
Exemptions for Recipients Caring for Young Children  
None 4
3 months or younger 13
12 months or younger 28
over 12 months 6
Approach to Exemptions for Disabled Recipients  
JOBS Participation Requirements 17
Broader Participation Requirements 17
Universal Participation Requirements 13
Not Categorized 4
Source: Pavetti et al. 1998; State Policy Documentation Project; Thompson et al. 1998; Welfare Rules Database, Urban Institute 2000

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