Understanding the AFDC/TANF Child-Only Caseload: Policies, Composition, and Characteristics in Three States. Sanctions


PRWORA gives states the flexibility to determine the penalty for noncompliance. In addition, welfare administrators may enforce the sanctions differently, based on the sanction processes and their philosophies regarding the effectiveness of sanctions. California, Florida, and Missouri have different sanctioning policies and processes involved in imposing the sanctions.

1. Sanction Policy

Exhibit 2.1 highlights the basic sanction policy in each of the three states.

(a) California

When a parent is sanctioned in California, generally for not participating in the welfare-to-work program, the parent's income is included in the benefit determination, but her needs are not considered and she is not included in the assistance unit. This essentially converts a regular case to a child-only case. For certain program violations, such as not providing proof of immunizations, the state issues a penalty, not a sanction. In this situation, the adult's needs are not included, although the adult remains in the assistance unit. Finally, the state reduces a family's grant by 25 percent if the adult refuses to cooperate with child support activities.


Exhibit 2.1
Sanction Policy in Three States
California Florida Missouri
  • A sanction removes the adult from the cash grant. Case becomes child-only.
  • A penalty keeps the individual eligible but removes his or her needs from the cash grant and/or reduces the grant by 25 percent.
  • Current policy closes the cash grant for entire family and may close food stamp case if food stamp exemption is not met. Other household members may apply for food stamps after penalty period (one month, for first occurrence, three months for second occurrence, and six months, for third occurrence).
  • Previous policy (prior to 12/99) closed the cash grant for the entire family for the first occurrence and the food stamp case for second and third sanction (food stamp exemption not applied and other household members could not apply).
  • Case becomes child-only if parent applies for assistance for children through a protective payee after second or third occurrence.a/
  • Current policy reduces grant amount by 25 percent (case remains a regular TANF case).
  • Previous policy (prior to 12/98) removed adult from cash grant. Case became child-only.
a/ This policy did not change.

With the welfare-to-work sanction, an individual is ineligible until she complies, if it is the first violation. The second violation results in a minimum sanction of three months or until the client is compliant, whichever is latest; the third sanction results in a minimum sanction of six months, or until the client is compliant, whichever is latest. In addition, the county is required to issue voucher or vendor payments for at least the rent and utilities for the second and third sanction.

(b) Florida

Florida is one of several states that imposes full-family sanctions (i.e., closes the cash assistance case) when clients are first noncompliant for not participating in a work activity; this is referred to as a level-one sanction.(1) Prior to December 1999, a level-two sanction, which is imposed for the second incident of noncompliance, resulted in a loss of cash assistance and food stamps, until the client complied for 30 days. A level-three sanction was imposed for the third incident of noncompliance, and closed the cash and food stamps case for at least three months. In December 1999, the policy on food stamp sanctions was changed after it was determined that it did not conform to federal food stamp regulations. Specifically, the state first applies the food stamp work exemptions (which are broader, exempting mothers with children under age six) before closing the food stamp case and allows other household members to apply for food stamps after a penalty period. In addition, the state decided to apply the food stamp sanction to level-one sanctions as well.(2)

With level-two and level-three sanctions, the parents can apply for assistance for their children through a protective payee, a third party who receives the grant on behalf of the parent and children. For this study, these protective payee cases are categorized as child-only cases.

A sanction is "forgiven" after six months. This means that a client whose cash has been sanctioned, but who participates in a work activity for six months, would receive a level-one sanction and not a level-two sanction for a second violation. It is important to note that analysis presented in Chapter 3 showing some cases are child-only due to sanction are level-two and level-three sanctions. Many more cases were sanctioned but are not captured in the estimates because of case closure.

While the work activity sanction is imposed to a greater extent then other sanctions, a client can also be sanctioned for other reasons, including: (1) not cooperating with Child Support Enforcement (which closes the TANF grant and removes the adult from Medicaid); (2) failing to immunize the children (children's needs, and not the adult's needs, are removed); (3) having a teen child who is not attending school (children's needs, and not the adult's needs, are removed); and (4) not attending a school conference (adult's needs are removed). Only sanctions that remove the adult result in child-only cases.

(c) Missouri

Missouri's sanction policy changed in October 1998, which has implications for this study. Prior to this point, Missouri had a policy similar to California's - noncompliance resulted in the removal of the parent from the TANF grant, converting the case to a child-only case. Noncompliance under the current policy results in a 25 percent reduction of the grant but keeps the adult in the assistance unit. For all cases except households with one child, this new policy results in a greater reduction of benefits. This essentially results in a smaller child-only caseload in 1999 than would have been, due to this reclassification of sanctioned cases. Before this new policy was enacted, the state had been considering several changes to the sanction policy, including a full-family sanction,(3) but opted for a benefit reduction after pressure from advocacy and community groups.

2. Imposing Sanctions

Alameda had low sanction rates in the past, although there is evidence that this is changing. In the early 1990s in the GAIN program, the predecessor to CalWORKs, there was insufficient funding to provide employment services to the full caseload. During those years, GAIN served primarily volunteers, and the majority were in self-initiated education or training programs. Thus, Alameda referred very few cases for sanctioning relative to other California counties and sanctioned few, if any.(4) By late 1997, Alameda started implementing a Work First program and called in mandatory clients. By June 1998 there was approximately 4 percent of the caseload in sanction status; another 5 percent had been referred for sanction, but were complying or had not yet been sanctioned. By September 1998, the reported sanction rate had increased to 5 percent of the caseload and another 11 percent had been referred for sanction. This reflected the change in program focus and the increased number of clients being required to participate. An analysis conducted by the county in June 1998 found that almost half were sanctioned for not attending the initial orientation, 22 percent did not participate in job club/job search, 24 percent did not participate in an assigned education or training activity, and 5 percent did not attend their assessment.(5)

Of the three states, Florida's policy imposes the severest penalty for noncompliance by closing the cash assistance case for first violations. In addition, eligibility workers have no discretion in when to impose or lift a sanction. The WAGES program refers all cases that are noncompliant to the eligibility workers and they have 10 days to impose the sanction. When the client complies with their WAGES work requirements, the WAGES program will request that the sanction be lifted. For level-two and level-three sanctions with protective payees (the child-only cases), the TANF recipient volunteers a friend, relative, or neighbor as her protective payee to receive the welfare check on behalf of the children.

In Jackson County, the families are subject to sanctions for an adult's refusal of a job offer, for failure to comply with child support, and for failure to comply with or participate in work-related activities. If the case has no barriers and is expected to conduct a job search, the self-sufficiency eligibility worker determines whether to sanction the case or not. If the case has some barriers to immediate employment and is assigned to the FUTURES program, then it is the FUTURES worker's determination as to whether the case should be sanctioned. In this situation, the FUTURES worker will refer the case to the eligibility worker, who will impose the sanction. All sanctions require a face-to-face meeting, and the client is given several chances to come into compliance. As mentioned above, these sanctioned cases are not child-only, although they were in the past.