While this report was issued prior to the enactment of the DRA, it includes useful research on sanctions and examples of how states can craft a sanction policy that reduces noncompliance and uncovers underlying barriers to participation.
Analysis of data from states and other sources indicates that under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, states and counties have imposed sanctions that reduced or terminated benefits to several hundred thousand families. Under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, states and counties have imposed sanctions that reduced or terminated benefits to hundreds of thousands of families. Under the federal law, states must require recipients to participate in work activities and must impose financial penalties on families that refuse, without good cause, to do so. When sanctions are imposed, some or all family members lose TANF cash benefits. The benefit loss may be partial or complete and it may be temporary or permanent, depending on the policies chosen by each state.
Many states have adopted sanction policies that are more stringent than required under federal law. In the long run, these policies may not serve, and indeed may impede, the goal of moving families from welfare to work and independence. Policies more stringent than required are found in the 36 states that impose full-family sanctions, which terminate cash assistance to the entire family, and in the 39 states that continue sanctions for fixed periods of time, even if the family has come into compliance with the requirements during the sanction period. Moreover, many states have curtailed or eliminated procedural protections for families facing a sanction.
These aggressive sanction policies appear to be aimed at families that, while able to comply with work requirements, simply refuse to do so; they were intended to send a strong message that work requirements would be enforced. Evidence after four years of TANF, however, indicates that families sanctioned for noncompliance with work requirements are not primarily those that refuse work, but rather those that face substantial barriers to employment. Sanctioned families are characterized by a high incidence of health problems and low education levels as well as a lack of transportation and child care. In addition, there is evidence that sanctioned families often do not know or understand what actions they are required to take to be in compliance or the consequences of failing to take those actions. (author abstract)