A Study of Work Participation and Full Engagement Strategies. Using Sanctions to Encourage Participation


Although the study sites have very different sanction policies, all use sanctions to encourage participation in work and work-related activities. (3) Sanctions are consequences  a reduction in the amount of or elimination of the TANF grant, for example  for nonparticipation in work or work-related activities. However, the purpose of sanctions is not to punish recipients but to (1) provide an incentive to participate and (2) create a mechanism for case managers to both identify why recipients are not participating and develop a plan to re-engage them in program activities. States and localities have considerable discretion in how sanction policies are structured, in the process for imposing them, and in how they may be cured. Therefore, it is not surprising that the sites used sanctions in different ways to increase participation.

Outreach. Aggressive outreach efforts, which were used by all of the sites to encourage re-engagement in program activities, can take a variety of forms. In all sites, case managers mail a notice to nonparticipating recipients explaining both what they must to do to meet requirements and the consequences of continued noncompliance. In some sites, however, case managers go to more extensive lengths. For instance, in Riverside County, case managers must visit nonparticipants in their home before initiating a sanction. Case managers in El Paso County also conduct home visits regularly.

Re-Engaging Nonparticipating Clients in Utah: Persistence Yields Participation

Betty Jones, (4) a 28-year old single mother of four children (ages 8, 9, 11, and 13) did not begin actively participating in program activities in Utah until her case manager imposed a sanction. Betty experienced multiple barriers to employment. All of her children had been in and out of foster care. She had low general functioning (e.g., limited problem-solving and life skills), a suspended driver's license, substance abuse problems, limited work history, criminal history, and physical health problems. Ms. Jones committed to participate in substance abuse treatment to fulfill her program requirement, but dropped out of treatment shortly after she began. The case manager scheduled nine appointments with Ms. Jones over a two-month period; Ms. Jones attended the first five and missed the last four. The case manager telephoned her eight times and sent six letters, including a certified letter. She also visited Ms. Jones once in her home. Ms. Jones was invited to an interagency conciliation review, which she did not attend. Finally, the case manager imposed a TANF sanction. "The client had to bottom out before she was going to change," said the case manager. After case closure, Ms. Jones reversed her sanction by participating in substance abuse treatment; she is currently participating in a GED class and attending treatment.

Sanction Review. Sanction reviews are used to uncover hidden personal and family challenges that interfere with a recipient's ability to participate. The typical review is a formal case conference  which takes place before a sanction is imposed  between the recipient, agency staff, and community partners to determine why the recipient is not participating and to develop a plan for re-engagement. Utah and El Paso follow this model. Utah invites the recipient to a conference with the case manager, his or her supervisor, an in-house social worker, and staff from other agencies. In El Paso, a "sanction prevention team"  consisting of the recipient's case manager, an eligibility technician, and, where applicable, the child welfare worker involved with the family  reviews not only information gathered during a home visit to the recipient but also the recipient's employment plan and participation history to determine whether to impose a sanction. Case managers indicated that the additional time required for these reviews is well spent in that the process can expose factors that interfere with participation.

Motivation. All sites use sanctions to motivate, not to punish, TANF recipients. Recipients may therefore "cure" sanctions and receive cash assistance again by meeting designated participation requirements. In four sites, recipients cure their first sanction by participating in work or work-related activities for at least 10 days. In the three remaining sites, recipients cure their first sanctions simply by making an oral or written commitment to participate in program activities.(5) The feasibility of the cure encourages recipients to re-engage in program activities.

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