Use of TANF Work-Oriented Sanctions in Illinois, New Jersey, and South Carolina. Characteristics of the Study States and Local Study Sites


Sanction and Related Policies. The three study states all implemented some variant of a full-family sanction (see Table I.1). Illinois and New Jersey both implemented a gradual full-family sanction while South Carolina implemented an immediate full-family sanction. When Illinois sanctions a family for the first time, it reduces the grant by 50 percent for up to three months and then eliminates the grant entirely. New Jersey eliminates the adult portion of the grant for three months and then closes the case. Illinois and New Jersey both require a sanction to be in place for a minimum of one month before lifting it. South Carolina lifts the sanction immediately after the recipient comes into compliance with program requirements; however, recipients are required to participate for 30 days before they are considered to be in compliance, making the minimum sanction period comparable to that in New Jersey and Illinois. In New Jersey, recipients must participate in program activities for 10 consecutive days before their sanction is lifted. In Illinois, the compliance period and requirements are left to the discretion of the case manager.

In Illinois and New Jersey, sanctions are more stringent if the client is noncompliant for a second or third time. In both states, the minimum sanction period increases to three months for the second period of noncompliance; in New Jersey, the case closes in the second month if the family is not complying with program requirements. In both Illinois and New Jersey, a third incident of noncompliance results in immediate case closure.

Table I.1.
Major Dimensions of State Sanction Policies
Dimension All States Illinois New Jersey South Carolina
  # of States
Type of sanction Partial
Gradual full-family
Immediate full-family
Pay for performance
Gradual full-family Gradual full-family Immediate full-family
Minimum duration No minimum, until compliance
1 month
2-3 months
1 month 1 month No minimum
Cure requirements Willingness to comply
Period of compliance
Willingness to comply Compliance for 10 consecutive days Compliance for 30 consecutive days
Approach to repeated noncompliance More stringent sanction
Longer minimum duration
Stricter cure requirements
Reapplication for benefits
Life-time ban on assistance
3-month minimum duration;
immediate full-family for third sanction
3-month minimum duration;
immediate full-family for third sanction
Same as for first instance
Source: Welfare Rules Database, Urban Institute 2000; State Policy Documentation Project.

The role sanctions play in welfare reform may be a function not only of the structure of sanctions but also of the context in which they are applied. Of particular importance is whether a state or local welfare office imposes any preapproval work-related requirements that might effectively serve as a sanction. Among the study states, Illinois is the only state to impose such a requirement. All families applying for TANF in Illinois are assessed and must complete a Responsibility and Service Plan (RSP) that contains goals and activities in which the client must participate while their application is pending. Many applicants are expected to participate in a 30-day up-front job search program, however, some might be asked to obtain services such as mental health or substance abuse treatment. If a family fails to follow their RSP, their application for TANF benefits can be denied. In practice, this requirement functions much like an immediate full-family sanction; the only difference is that, in the case of the up-front requirement, the TANF case is never opened. We would expect such a policy to reduce the number of families sanctioned, because some families that might have been sanctioned once on the rolls never actually become a TANF case.

The "Cost" of a Work-Oriented Sanction. The cost of a work-oriented sanction depends on the initial grant amount and the influence of the sanction on other benefits (see Table I.2). The financial cost of the initial grant reduction for a family of three in Illinois and New Jersey is $198 and $141, respectively; for a full-family sanction, the cost is $396 in Illinois and $424 in New Jersey. The cost of a full-family sanction in South Carolina is $201. South Carolina adds to the cost of the sanction by eliminating Medicaid benefits for the noncompliant adult. In all three states, families are not eligible to receive child care and other work supports until they begin participating in work activities.

Table I.2.
The "Cost" of Work-Oriented Sanctions for a Family of Three
  Illinois New Jersey South Carolina
TANF grant Initial partial sanction:
Half grant: $198
Full-family: $396
Initial partial sanction:
Adult portion: $141
Full-family: $424
Full-family: $201
Medicaid No change due to sanction No change due to sanction Loss of eligibility for nonpregnant adults
Work supports (e.g., child care, transportation) Eligible only if participating in work activities Eligible only if participating in work activities Eligible only if participating in work activities
Source: Welfare Rules Database, Urban Institute 2000; State Policy Documentation Project.

Client Characteristics. The characteristics of the single-parent caseloads in the three study states are similar in many respects but also show some important differences (see Table I.3). The age distribution is almost identical in Illinois and New Jersey, but the caseload in South Carolina is considerably younger; 43 percent of the caseload in South Carolina is age 24 or younger compared with 35 and 33 percent in Illinois and New Jersey, respectively. African Americans account for the largest share of each caseload, but for a smaller share of the caseload in New Jersey  the only study state that includes a substantial number of Hispanic families. South Carolina's single-parent population is somewhat more educated, with almost two-thirds having completed high school. The caseload in New Jersey has the largest representation of families with just one child and the fewest number of families with a child under the age of three. Finally, the states show different durations of the current TANF spell. With 39 percent of its caseload in the midst of a TANF spell that has lasted 25 or more months, Illinois claims the greatest representation of long-term cases on its caseload. In New Jersey, 27 percent of cases have received TANF continuously for 25 or more months while, in South Carolina which has a two-year time limit, only 6 percent of the caseload has received assistance for this long. (Illinois and New Jersey both have a 60-month time limit and Illinois "stops the clock" for families who are working 30 or more hours per week.)

Table I.3.
Characteristics of TANF Recipients in the Study States
(Percentages unless otherwise indicated)
Characteristics Illinois New Jersey South Carolina
Female 98 95 98
Age (years)
Younger than 20 8 9 11
20-24 27 24 32
25-29 21 19 20
30-39 30 31 25
40 or older 13 17 12
AfricanAmerican,Non-Hispanic 82 57 73
White,Non-Hispanic 12 14 26
Hispanic/other 7 29 1
Marital Status
Never married 84 78 71
Ever married 17 22 29
Lessthanhighschooldiploma/GED 49 46 36
High school diploma/GED 40 41 50
More than high school diploma/GED 11 10 14
Number of Children on TANF Case
0 2 4 1
1 29 54 37
2 28 25 34
3 20 11 18
4 or more 21 6 10
Age of Youngest Child on Case(years)
Younger than 1 27 15 11
1-3 26 18 37
3-5 17 20 22
6 or older 30 47 31
Duration of Current TANF Spell (months)
Fewer than 6 22 51 52
6-11 18 10 28
12-24 21 12 15
25ormore 39 27 6
Number of TANF Cases 33,478 51,539 10,852
Source: Analysis of state administrative data by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
Note: Some distributions do not add to 100 due to missing data or rounding.

TANF Administrative Structure. The implementation of welfare reform required local welfare offices to expand their capacity to provide employment services and monitor their use. Many expanded their reliance on contracted service providers and restructured staff responsibilities. As shown in Table I.4, the study sites use a variety of administrative arrangements to provide employment services to TANF recipients and to track program participation.

In each of the study sites, in-house welfare agency staff provide case management. Welfare case managers have primary responsibility for conducting assessments, developing employment plans, monitoring and tracking participation, and imposing and lifting sanctions. In some offices, they may also provide job readiness services to TANF recipients on their caseload, assisting with such tasks as completing a resume or filling out a master application. In addition to its regular case managers, one local welfare office in New Jersey uses intensive case managers with reduced caseloads to work with hard-to-employ clients and those nearing the welfare time limit. When contracted employment service providers are used, TANF clients referred to these providers receive additional case management from staff at the providers. However, primary responsibility for developing and monitoring an employment services plan rests with the case managers in the TANF agency.

In all the local sites, employment and training service providers (some contracted and some in-house) play an important role in implementing TANF sanctions. Their responsibilities include: (1) providing information to recipients on work requirements and consequences for noncompliance; (2) providing work-related activities in which TANF recipients can participate; (3) monitoring daily participation in work activities; and (4) participating in case staffings, conciliation reviews, and case conferences for TANF recipients who are experiencing participation problems or are at risk of sanction. In four of the six sites, one or more contractors deliver these services. In the two sites in South Carolina, specialized employment units staffed by workers employed by the TANF agency deliver the needed services.

Several of the welfare offices created specialized positions or units to streamline the process for implementing TANF sanctions. In one local office in Illinois, an employment and training liaison handles monitoring and tracking of all 900 TANF recipients participating in employment and training services. Both local offices in New Jersey created separate units to implement eligibility changes for sanctioned TANF recipients. The units handle all transactions involved in executing a sanction and monitoring its progression over time. Finally, one local office in New Jersey hired a specialized social worker to help clients reverse their sanction. She conducts a weekly sanction compliance meeting and assists clients with meeting the work requirements so that their sanction can be lifted.

Table I.4.
Administrative Arrangements for Implementing Work Requirements and Sanctions
Office A
Office B
New Jersey
Office A
New Jersey
Office B
South Carolina
Office A
South Carolina
Office B
TANF caseload:
Work mandatory
Approach to case management Combined eligibility and case management Combined eligibility and case management Separate eligibility worker and case manager Separate eligibility worker and case manager Separate eligibility worker and case manager Combined eligibility and case management
Caseload size per case manager 115 TANF cases 150-160 TANF cases 150-200 TANF cases 100-125 TANF casesa 150-170 TANF cases 200 benefit cases (50 TANF)
Employment services provided in-house Case management Case management Case management Case management Case management
Home visits
Job search and job readiness (specialized unit)
Case management
Job search and job readiness (specialized unit)
Contracted employment service providers 10 service providers 6 service providers 1 provider 5 service providers None None
Types of responsibilities contracted out Employment and training services Employment and training services
Mental health/substance abuse
Employment and training services Employment and training services n/a n/a
Employment service provider's involvement with the implementation of TANF sanctions Monitoring and tracking
Participation in conciliation reviews
Monitoring and tracking
Participation in conciliation reviews
Monitoring and tracking Monitoring and tracking Monitoring and tracking Monitoring and tracking
Frequency and types of reporting on program participation Monthly reports Monthly reports Weekly reports Weekly reports Immediately after non-participation Immediately after non-participation
Specialized units or staff for implementing or lifting sanctions None Employment and training liaisonb Sanctions unit (manages eligibility changes) Sanctions unit (manages eligibility changes)
Specialized social worker
None None
a Case managers in the EFFORTS program for hard-to-employ recipients carry caseloads of 40-50 cases. Social workers for those nearing the time limit carry caseloads of 50-75 cases.
b The employment and training liaison monitors and tracks 900 TANF recipients served in office B. She imposes and lifts all TANF sanctions.


(1) In New Jersey, data were collected for a comprehensive evaluation of Work First New Jersey, a multiyear study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., for the state of New Jersey. In Illinois, data were collected for a study of the characteristics and service needs of Illinois' current TANF caseload. The study was conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. with funding from ASPE and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. In South Carolina, data were collected as a part of an ASPE-funded multistate project to understand the characteristics and needs of families receiving TANF cash assistance.

(2) All three of the surveys had a response rate of at least 75 percent.

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