Use of TANF Work-Oriented Sanctions in Illinois, New Jersey, and South Carolina. Monitoring Participation in Work Activities


Monitoring participation in work activities is an integral component of implementing TANF sanctions. Careful monitoring provides case managers with the information they need to identify clients who are not participating in program activities and therefore are at risk of sanctions. Given that several case managers and several agencies are often involved in arranging and monitoring employment-related services for TANF recipients, the development of an effective monitoring system is a complicated endeavor. Effective monitoring and tracking of participation in work activities requires frequent contact with clients, clear communication between case managers and employment service providers, and efficient and timely reporting procedures.

The study sites all have systems in place for monitoring participation in program activities. The specific procedures used to monitor participation varied across the sites, but the case managers uniformly reported that they had access to the information they needed to monitor compliance with work requirements and that the information was provided to them in a consistent and timely manner. Still, local TANF administrators reported that monitoring participation is an ongoing challenge.

Key Findings:
Monitoring Participation in Work Activities
  • Although several workers and, in most cases, several agencies in the study sites play roles in providing services and monitoring participation, case managers consistently reported receiving the information they need to identify participation problems and make sanctioning decisions.

Because of the way we selected the sites for the study, we have no way of knowing the degree to which the experiences of the study sites are representative of the experiences of most other local welfare offices. It was clear that the offices in the study sites had invested considerable time and energy to develop monitoring and tracking systems that allowed them to monitor program participation closely and in a timely manner. In a study of pre-welfare reform employment programs, Hamilton and Scrivener (1999) found that programs with a high level of enforcement, including close monitoring and tracking, produce higher participation rates than programs with a low level of enforcement. Effective monitoring may also benefit clients: knowing that their participation may be closely monitored might motivate clients to participate in program activities to avoid sanctions. Close monitoring of program participation also may expedite the identification of clients who are not participating because of one or more personal or family challenges or logistical barriers.

Each of the local welfare offices we visited during the study rely on formal and informal mechanisms for monitoring and tracking client participation. The offices use the information gathered on participation to make decisions about granting regular and good cause exemptions and imposing and reversing sanctions. Case managers rely little on client self-reports to track participation. Instead, the local welfare agencies we visited rely heavily on employment service providers or in-house employment units to manage monitoring and tracking responsibilities. In most cases, the welfare agencies themselves provide at least some employment-related services, making it possible for them to observe directly whether a client is participating. While monthly monitoring and tracking reports are the main source of information on participation, case managers also used other formal and informal communication strategies to obtain information on current participation and to confer with their colleagues about strategies for overcoming participation problems.

Monitoring and Tracking Reports. Most employment service providers in the study sites submit a weekly or monthly tracking report to the welfare office as a condition of their service contract. The reports summarize the number of hours and types of activities in which clients participated for the designated time period. In local offices with high caseloads where managers have less face-to-face contact with clients, welfare staff rely heavily on the monitoring and tracking reports to identify clients who are not participating in work activities.

Direct Notification. In addition to formal reports, employment service providers in each of the sites we visited during the study contact the case manager directly by telephone or e-mail when a client fails to attend a workshop session or participate in some other work activity. In most cases, employment service providers notify case managers within a few days if a client is not participating in work activities.

Formal Case Conferences. In some of the local offices, welfare and employment service provider staff meet regularly to discuss cases. For example, in one local office in New Jersey, staff from the local community college and welfare office conduct biweekly "Job Link" meetings in which they discuss problem cases, including clients not participating in work activities. In one South Carolina office, unit supervisors meet monthly with case managers to identify clients who are not participating and to determine how they may reengage them in program activities.

Informal Contact Between Welfare and Employment Service Provider Staff. Within most local welfare offices, welfare and employment service provider staff engage in frequent exchanges. In one local office, the administrator from the employment service provider visits the welfare office weekly to interact with staff. In some cases, employment service providers are colocated in the welfare office or are otherwise nearby. In one of the South Carolina offices, the in-house specialty unit provides employment services to TANF clients in a double-wide trailer located in the parking lot of the welfare office. Such proximity facilitates regular interaction among staff, making it easy to share information on clients who are not participating in work activities.

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