Use of TANF Work-Oriented Sanctions in Illinois, New Jersey, and South Carolina. How Do Sanctioned TANF Recipients Fare?

04/30/2004

To analyze how sanctioned recipients fare over time, we first examine the duration of sanctions and then the employment and TANF experiences of fully sanctioned recipients. For the first component of the analysis, we use data from all three states to examine the length and disposition of partial sanctions and the rate of return to TANF for fully sanctioned cases. For the second component, we exploit the availability of the rich survey data collected for the Work First New Jersey evaluation to examine the employment and welfare experiences of TANF recipients receiving full-family sanctions for the year after the sanction is imposed. (Similar data are not available in Illinois or South Carolina.)

How long do sanctions last?

Given the nature of sanctioning policy in Illinois and New Jersey, initial partial sanctions are typically short. If the recipient does not comply with work requirements, initial partial sanctions proceed to full-family sanctions within three months in both states. For this reason, more than 80 percent of initial partial sanctions in New Jersey and more than 90 percent of initial partial sanctions in Illinois end within three months (see Table III.5). In Illinois, initial partial sanctions end within one month for nearly half of the cases under such sanctions, suggesting that many individuals make efforts to cure an initial sanction quickly. Similarly, nearly 40 percent of initial partial sanctions end within one month in New Jersey.

Partial sanctions can end because the sanction is lifted and the full TANF grant is restored, because a full-family sanction is imposed, or because the family exits TANF for another reason. In New Jersey, the proportion of partial sanctions ending for each of these reasons are roughly evenly distributed, with a slightly lower proportion ending as a result of TANF exits for reasons other than a sanction (see Table III.5). In Illinois, over half of partial sanctions end when sanctions are lifted and the full grant is restored.

Table III.5.
Duration of Partial Sanctions and Reasons These Sanctions Ended Among TANF
Recipients in Illinois and New Jersey
(Percentages)
  Illinois New Jersey
Partial Sanction Ended Within
1 month 49 37
2 months 72 62
3 months 94 83
4 or more months 100 100
(Average length in months) (1.7) (2.3)
(Median length in months) (2) (2)
Partial Sanction Ended Because
Sanction lifted, full grant restored 55 36
Full family sanction imposed 22 38
Exited TANF for another reason 23 26
Sample Size 7,762 19,502
Source: Analysis of state administrative data by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
Note: Analysis is based on cases that received a partial sanction within 12 months of baseline. Baseline is defined as November 2001 in Illinois and, in New Jersey, the time the case first received cash assistance during or after July 2000.

Full-family sanctions end if the family returns to TANF.(5) Most fully sanctioned families in Illinois and New Jersey ultimately do return to TANF, many within only a few months (see Table III.6).(6) For example, respectively 43 and 47 percent of those who leave TANF in Illinois and New Jersey because of a full-family sanction return within three months, suggesting that many families decide to comply with work requirements shortly after the full-family sanction is imposed. Within the first year, the majority of sanctioned leavers  55 percent in Illinois and 63 percent in New Jersey  return to TANF. These TANF return rates are much higher than those for families that left TANF for reasons other than a sanction. Among other TANF leavers, only 26 and 39 percent returned to TANF within a year in Illinois and New Jersey, respectively.

Table III.6.
Sanctioned and Other Leavers Returning to TANF
(Percentages)
  Sanctioned Leavers Other Leavers All Leavers
Illinois
Returned to TANF Within
3 months 43 21 24
6 months 52 23 27
9 months 54 25 29
12 months 55 26 30
Sample Size 2,801 16,760 19,561
New Jersey
Returned to TANF Within
3 months 47 24 28
6 months 56 31 35
9 months 60 35 40
12 months 63 39 43
Sample Size 7,238 30,727 37,965
South Carolina
Returned to TANF Within
3 months 25 16 16
6 months 31 21 22
9 months 32 22 23
Sample Size 273 3,265 3,538
Source: Analysis of state administrative data by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
Note: Illinois sample was truncated in order to observe a full 12 months after TANF exit. New Jersey sample includes cases who exited TANF within 12 months of baseline. "Baseline" pertains to the time the sample member first received cash assistance during or after July 2000. South Carolina sample was truncated in order to observe a full 9 months after TANF exit.

The rate of TANF returns is lower in South Carolina for both sanctioned and other TANF leavers, possibly because the TANF grant is about half that of the other two states and may provide less incentive for return or because the lower eligibility threshold makes it less likely that families with any earned income will be eligible for benefits. Also, since fewer sanctions are imposed, those who receive them may be the least likely to come into compliance. However, the pattern still holds that those who leave as a consequence of a sanction are more likely to return to TANF than those who leave for other reasons. Within nine months of exiting TANF, 32 percent of sanctioned leavers return while 22 percent of other leavers return.

What are the employment and welfare experiences of sanctioned recipients over time?

From previous research, we know very little about what happens to families after they are fully sanctioned. Advocates and some policymakers have expressed concern that full family sanctions may contribute to material hardship. Others posit that fully sanctioned families must have other sources of support or they would have returned to the welfare rolls for assistance. In this section, we use administrative data on TANF receipt combined with survey data on employment status from the Work First New Jersey evaluation to examine the employment and TANF status of fully sanctioned TANF recipients in the first year after the sanction was imposed. We restrict the analysis to the 126 survey respondents who received a full-family sanction during the survey follow-up period and for whom 12 months of post-sanction survey follow-up data are available. We only use data from New Jersey because it is the only one of the three study states for which we have the necessary monthly employment data to conduct this analysis.

Most recipients who received a full-family sanction either returned to TANF or found employment within the first year after being sanctioned. Only 12 percent spent all their time off TANF and showed no record of employment. On average, in the year after receiving a full-family sanction, recipients spent four months on TANF and not employed, one month on TANF and employed, three months off TANF and employed and four months off TANF and not employed (see Figure III.1).

Figure III.1.
Time Spent in Various Employment and TANF Statuses During the First 12
Months After a Full-Family Sanction in New Jersey
Figure III.1. Time Spent in Various Employment and TANF Statuses During the First 12 Months After a Full-Family Sanction in New Jersey
Source: TANF status from state administrative data. Employment status from a follow-up survey conduted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
Note:Figures represent the experiences of the 126 survey respondents who received a full-family sanction 12 or more months prior to their survey date.

The economic circumstances of TANF recipients in the year after receiving a full-family sanction varied substantially depending on their employment status at the time the sanction was imposed. One in four recipients in New Jersey was employed when the full-family sanction was imposed (not shown). Among this group, recipients typically spent most of their time employed and off TANF in the year after receiving the sanction and spent relatively little time either back on TANF or off TANF and not employed (see Figure III.1). The relative economic success of these sanctioned recipients suggests that many in the group may have been working or looking for work and preparing to leave TANF even in the absence of a sanction. Consistent with this interpretation, the follow-up survey showed that 60 percent of those employed when they received a full-family sanction reported "getting a job" as the reason for leaving welfare while only 22 percent reported a sanction as the reason (not shown).(7) Recipients who were not employed at the time they were sanctioned spent little time employed while off TANF during the year after being sanctioned and split their time fairly evenly between being on TANF and being off TANF and not employed (see Figure III.1). While on TANF, these recipients were employed for an average of one month.

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