Oswego County, New York, requires all TANF recipients to participate in a monthly group case management meeting to remain eligible for TANF. The county first introduced this requirement in 1999 with the implementation of the Pathways Case Management System. The core components of Pathways monthly group meetings, a participant activity diary, and an automated participant tracking system are used to help recipients take incremental steps toward employment. Pathways encourages detailed and frequent goal setting, peer support and accountability, and participation in a broad range of program activities customized to individual circumstances. TANF recipients meet monthly with program staff and 10 to 15 peers to develop activity plans and review progress toward employment. Recipients who do not attend these meetings may have their TANF cases closed for failure to comply with eligibility requirements.
While all TANF recipients are required to participate in the monthly case management meetings, some are exempt from work or work-related activities because of domestic abuse, pregnancy, physical or mental health conditions, or application for SSI. In practice, approximately half of the TANF caseload is exempt, mostly on the basis of physical or mental health conditions. Recipients who are exempt are encouraged in the case management meetings to participate in work activities even though they cannot be sanctioned for failing to do so. Nonexempt recipients may be sanctioned if they do not meet their work participation requirements. The penalty for noncompliance with work requirements is a partial reduction in the TANF grant (recall that the penalty for noncompliance with Pathways meetings is case closure).
Oswego County takes a work-first approach with TANF recipients who are not exempt from participating in work and work-related activities. They are expected to participate in federally countable activities for at least 30 hours per week. They must also contact at least five employers per week. The vast majority of these recipients are assigned to job search and job readiness activities first. If they do not find a job, they are placed in a work experience site either with the local government or nonprofit organizations. Nonfederal activities such as extended job search, mental health and substance abuse treatment, or caring for a disabled family member or for a child with behavioral problems are typically assigned in combination with other work-related activities.