Use of TANF Work-Oriented Sanctions in Illinois, New Jersey, and South Carolina. Reengaging Sanctioned Recipients in Program Activities


Sanctions are intended to encourage families otherwise not inclined to participate in work activities to do so. In some cases, reluctant participants might decide to participate immediately after they are informed of the financial penalties associated with not participating or after they receive a notice advising them that their grant will be reduced or terminated. However, some families may not respond to these early warnings. Thus, programs must develop strategies for reengaging recipients in program activities after they are sanctioned. In addition to providing opportunities for sanctioned families deciding to comply on their own, the strategies might include proactive outreach efforts designed to encourage families to come into compliance.

The study sites all had instituted explicit procedures (known as "cure" requirements) for reengaging sanctioned recipients in work activities. While local offices had some flexibility in the implementation of the procedures, they were largely constrained by state policy decisions. None of the sites had implemented outreach strategies designed to encourage recipients to comply following the imposition of sanctions.

Key Findings:
Reengaging Sanctioned Recipients in Program Activities
  • In developing procedures for reengaging recipients, states and local welfare offices face the difficult challenge of developing cure requirements that are achievable for most recipients without creating a revolving door that makes it easy for families to cycle in and out of participation.

States need to strike a delicate balance in developing and implementing cure requirements. Case managers believe that clients who complete strict cure requirements demonstrate that they have the capacity and willingness to participate in work activities. However, case managers worry that some clients with personal and family challenges may face barriers that preclude them from fulfilling the requirements. In addition, cure requirements perceived as too demanding may deter sanctioned clients from ever trying to comply. On the other hand, case managers fear that cure requirements that are too lenient may encourage clients to come into compliance, only to stop participating shortly thereafter. This revolving door increases the workload for welfare staff and may reduce the incentive for recipients to participate at the levels specified in federal law.

The study sites took different approaches to establishing cure requirements. In South Carolina, clients are required to participate in work activities for 30 consecutive days before the sanction is cured. New Jersey requires clients to participate for 10 consecutive days. If clients begin but do not complete the 10-day probationary period, they move to the next level of sanction, which is more stringent. In Illinois, clients must sign a "commitment to participate" form. Although state law specifies no minimum period of participation, Illinois case managers may impose a minimum probationary participation period. If the TANF case is closed, families must reapply for benefits and complete the 30-day up-front job search diversion requirement. All the states requiring a probationary period give sanctioned clients work supports (e.g., transportation and child care) as they try to cure their sanction.

In an effort to streamline the sanction compliance process, as a first step in curing their sanction, one of the local offices in New Jersey requires all sanctioned clients to attend a sanction compliance meeting held every Monday from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. The purpose of the meeting is to (1) screen and assess clients, (2) advise clients what they must do to reverse their sanction, and (3) assist clients in obtaining child care and transportation assistance. The meeting is conducted by a case manager designated to work exclusively with sanctioned clients who need to cure their sanctions. She manages the entire process for reversing the sanctions. According to case managers, centralization of reengagement efforts reduces their workload since many clients who indicate an interest in curing their sanction do not follow through with participation in required activities. In the other sites, individual case managers work with clients as they reapply for benefits or try to have their benefits restored.

In all the sites, responsibility for initiating the process to cure sanctions resides with the client. Clients who want to cure their sanction are required to contact their case manager and complete the steps for lifting the sanction. None of the study sites has formal processes in place to conduct outreach to sanctioned TANF recipients once their TANF case is closed. All proactive efforts to encourage participation occur before imposition of the sanction.

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