Review of Sanction Policies and Research Studies. The Structure and Stringency of Work-Oriented Sanctions

03/10/2003

States have used the flexibility provided under TANF to develop different approaches to sanctioning. Table 1 describes four key dimensions that capture the structure and stringency of various state sanction policies: (1) the type of sanction, (2) its minimum duration, (3) the requirements to reverse it, and (4) approach to multiple instances of noncompliance. State policy choices on each of these dimensions are presented in Appendix A and B.

 

Table 1.
Key Dimension of State Sanction Policies
Dimension State Approaches Number of States
Type of Sanction Partial 15
  Gradual Full-Family 18
  Immediate Full-Family 17
  Pay for Performance 1
Minimum Duration No minimum, until compliance 28
  1 month 15
  2-3 months 8
Cure Requirements Willingness to comply 9
  Period of compliance 26
  Unknown 16
Repeated Noncompliance More stringent sanction type 10
  Longer minimum duration 32
  Stricter cure requirements 24
  Reapplication for benefits 24
  Lifetime ban on assistance 7
Source: Welfare Rules Database, Urban Institute 2000; State Policy Documentation Project.

Type of Sanction. States have implemented four different types of sanctions: (1) partial; (2) gradual full-family; (3) immediate full-family; and (4) pay-for-performance. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have implemented a partial sanction. As the name implies, when a partial sanction is imposed, a family's cash assistance grant is reduced but they continue to receive some portion of their benefits. The most common approach to imposing a partial sanction is to eliminate the noncompliant adult(s) from the grant, as all states did prior to the implementation of welfare reform. Some states that impose a partial sanction have deviated from this structure and instead reduce the family's grant by a specified percentage.

Seventeen states have implemented an immediate full-family sanction. When such a policy is in place, a family loses all of their cash assistance soon after they are identified as being noncompliant. In some states, these cases become "zero-grant" cases and are counted as part of the TANF caseload. In most states, the case is closed with a sanction closure code, enabling reviewers to distinguish families exiting TANF because of a sanction from those who have left for other reasons.

Nineteen states have implemented either gradual full-family or pay-for-performance approaches to sanctions. These approaches include elements of both partial and full-family sanctions. Under a gradual full-family sanction policy, failure to comply with work requirements leads to a grant reduction for a period ranging from one to six months, depending on the state. If a family comes into compliance before the end of this period, their full grant is restored. If they remain noncompliant at the end of this period, the entire grant is eliminated. Pay for performance, implemented only in Wisconsin, can resemble either a partial or full-family sanction, depending on whether a family is fully or partially noncompliant. Under this model, a family receives assistance only for the hours they participate in required work activities. If they do not participate at all, they do not receive any assistance and the policy operates in the same manner as an immediate full-family sanction. However, if they participate, they receive payment for those hours and the policy functions like a partial sanction.

Sanction Duration. States have taken two different approaches to deciding how long a sanction must remain in place after it is imposed. These approaches represent different philosophies about how to encourage and reward program compliance. Twenty-eight states immediately lift a sanction once a family comes into compliance with program requirements, in order to maintain an immediate connection between a family's choices and the receipt of benefits. Twenty-three states impose a minimum sanction period ranging from one to three months for a first instance of noncompliance. This is often implemented for practical as well as philosophical reasons- it acknowledges that it usually takes some period of time to restore a grant once it has been reduced or eliminated, and has as a philosophical aim that reminds clients that there are consequences for noncompliance. A minimum sanction period was used under the pre-TANF Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (JOBS) training program in an effort to eliminate a "revolving door" effect, where families were believed to move in and out of sanction status frequently.

Cure Requirements. States must also decide what a family must do in order to come into compliance, usually referred to as "curing" the sanction. States have taken two different approaches to defining cure requirements. Nine states require that a family simply indicate their willingness to comply in order to have their grant restored, while 26 states require a family to show actual compliance. (Information is not readily available for the remaining 16 states.) What is needed to demonstrate compliance varies widely, ranging from as little as two days of participation in Arizona to 30 days of compliance in South Carolina and New York. In a few states, the cure requirement depends on the nature of the noncompliance.

Approaches to Repeated Incidence of Noncompliance. Ten states impose a more stringent type of sanction if a family moves in and out of sanction status--for example moving from a partial to a gradual full-family sanction or from a gradual to an immediate full-family sanction. Thirty-two states increase the stringency of the sanction by imposing a longer minimum duration, often up to six months, and stricter cure requirements. In almost half the states, families with multiple sanctions must reapply for benefits rather than having their case reinstated. In seven states, multiple sanctions can lead to a lifetime ban on benefits.

View full report

Preview
Download

"full-report.pdf" (pdf, 596.55Kb)

Note: Documents in PDF format require the Adobe Acrobat Reader®. If you experience problems with PDF documents, please download the latest version of the Reader®

View full report

Preview
Download

"appendices.pdf" (pdf, 788.94Kb)

Note: Documents in PDF format require the Adobe Acrobat Reader®. If you experience problems with PDF documents, please download the latest version of the Reader®