Use of TANF Work-Oriented Sanctions in Illinois, New Jersey, and South Carolina. Imposing TANF Sanctions: How Often, On Whom, and With What Outcomes?

The implementation of more stringent sanctions has raised the level of interest in understanding how often sanctions are imposed, on whom, and with what outcomes. Information on the frequency of sanctions can help us understand the role sanctions play in encouraging participation in work-related activities and helping families move towards self-sufficiency. It can also help us estimate how many recipients might be at risk of adverse consequences associated with the imposition of sanctions. Comprehensive information on sanctioned recipients can enhance our understanding of the demographic characteristics associated with higher rates of sanctioning and determine whether families facing personal and family challenges are at higher risk of sanctions. Finally, this information, combined with information on the employment of sanctioned recipients, can answer questions about how sanctioned recipients are faring.

This chapter uses administrative and survey data from the three study states to answer five research questions:

  • How often are sanctions imposed?
  • How do the characteristics of sanctioned and nonsanctioned recipients compare?
  • What is the impact of personal, family, and logistical challenges on the likelihood of a household receiving a sanction?
  • How do sanctioned recipients fare over time?
  • Do sanctions promote compliance with work requirements?

Because of data limitations, we cannot answer each question in all three of the study states. Instead, we expand our knowledge of the use of sanctions by exploiting the strengths of the data we have for each state. In all three study states, we are able to (1) document how often sanctions are imposed; (2) examine how often sanctioned recipients come into compliance, either because the sanction is lifted or because their TANF case is reopened; and (3) compare a limited set of background and demographic characteristics of sanctioned and nonsanctioned recipients. In South Carolina and Illinois, we can compare the presence of personal and family challenges and logistical barriers among sanctioned and nonsanctioned recipients. In Illinois, we can examine how these challenges and barriers independently influence the likelihood of being sanctioned when all other factors are held equal. Finally, in New Jersey, relying on the rich data collected for the Work First New Jersey evaluation, we can examine the employment and TANF status of families who were subject to a full family sanction for a year after the sanction was imposed.

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