Use of TANF Work-Oriented Sanctions in Illinois, New Jersey, and South Carolina. How Often Are TANF Sanctions Imposed?


New Jersey and Illinois impose sanctions on a modest proportion of the caseload to promote participation in work activities. On the other hand, South Carolina rarely imposes them. Over a 10-month period, 5 percent of recipients are fully sanctioned in South Carolina compared with 10 and 12 percent in Illinois and New Jersey, respectively. When initial partial sanctions and a longer time period (18 months) are considered, 31 percent of recipients in Illinois and 39 percent of recipients in New Jersey see their grants reduced as a consequence of a sanction.

South Carolina's experience illustrates the extent to which the message regarding the use of sanctions, and possibly the severity of the initial penalty, can influence the use of sanctions to promote participation in work activities. South Carolina's low rate of sanctioning is most likely attributable to an explicit state administrative decision to encourage the use of sanctions only as a last resort. The decision represents a response to advocacy groups and others that raised concerns about the large number of case closures attributable to full family sanctions. Procedural requirements implemented at the local level that have had the effect of discouraging case managers from imposing sanctions include (1) extensive documentation of all actions taken to address participation problems, (2) a multilayered review process, and (3) a considerable lag from the time of the initial sanction recommendation to the final sanctioning decision.

While Illinois and New Jersey impose sanctions more often, their rate of sanctioning is lower than that found in the two earlier cohort studies. Fein and Lee estimate that 52 percent of Delaware TANF recipients received work-related sanctions (partial or full) during an 18-month period. In a similar study, Holcomb and Ratcliffe (2000) estimate that, during a 10-month period, 45 percent of Indiana TANF recipients were partially sanctioned for failure to comply with work requirements. The later timeframe of the present study may, in part, explain why we find a lower incidence of sanctions. As welfare reform has progressed and policies and practices have become more systematic, it is possible that many noncompliant recipients already have been sanctioned off or have otherwise exited from TANF. Additionally, if sanctions have become more credible over time, more people may be complying with program requirements before a sanction is imposed.

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