In many states, a significant proportion of the welfare caseload has been sanctioned for not complying with program rules. In those states, as well as in states with fewer sanctioned cases, the penalized clients are likely to have one or more barriers to employment. They may have lower levels of education and job skills and/or be affected by domestic violence, substance abuse, or mental health problems. Or they may have health, disability, or caregiving issues or lack transportation or child care. These same barriers are likely to continue to impede clients’ ability to find jobs and become self-sufficient after the imposition of a sanction. Consequently, many families will face numerous challenges when their cash assistance is reduced or suspended because of a sanction.
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) requires states to sanction welfare clients who do not comply with the work requirements of the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. States may also sanction individuals who do not comply with other TANF rules, such as requirements that children receive immunizations and attend school. The law allows states to define noncompliance and to determine the severity of the penalty, exemptions, procedures to help clients avoid a sanction, and the process to restore benefits. Sanction policies may range from short-term partial benefit reduction to full-benefit termination for the entire family. In some states, adults may lose their cash assistance because of a sanction, but other family members remain eligible.
Federal and state policies exempt some families with severe employment barriers from sanctions, and federal law prohibits states from penalizing a single parent with a child below age six if child care is not available. In addition, some states use intensive case management, mental health and substance abuse assessments, home visits, presanction reviews, and other mechanisms to determine whether a client has “good cause” to be excluded from TANF participation requirements and protected from a potential sanction.
Outcomes for sanctioned clients and their families will depend on the scope and duration of the penalty, the availability of other community and family supports, the availability of employment opportunities, and the economic impact of the loss of income. These factors may also affect a client’s decision to come into compliance with program rules and “cure” a sanction according to his or her state’s compliance policies. Some clients will decide against returning to welfare and will seek employment, apply for other public benefits, and/or turn to relatives and friends for assistance to meet daily needs. In seven states, the welfare agency closes cases after repeated or continued noncompliance.
This Issue Note highlights post-sanction strategies that states can use to address clients’ needs, help clients “cure” their sanction, and improve clients’ access to other public benefits to prevent hardship. (author abstract)
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