Worker and Family Assistance:

Additional Information about the Scope and Limits of Sanction Data Provided in Recent GAO Report on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

HEHS-00-133R: Published: Jun 14, 2000. Publicly Released: Jun 14, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO followed up on its previous report on the scope and limits of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program's 1998 sanction data, focusing on: (1) whether the number of full-family sanctions in an average month in 1998 can be annualized and used to determine the impact full-family sanctions had that year on caseload size; and (2) what constitutes the combined number of full-family and partial sanctions in an average month during 1998.

GAO noted that: (1) under TANF, full-family sanctions can be imposed, and thus cases can be closed and reopened, multiple times in a year; (2) thus, annualizing the number of full-family sanctions in an average month, while providing an indication of the total number of times full-family sanctions were imposed in a year, would probably overstate the number of families who received full-family sanctions during that year and, thus, the impact of full-family sanctions on caseload size; (3) an unduplicated count of families receiving full-family sanctions could not be derived from the data the states furnished to GAO; (4) developing an unduplicated count of all families whose cases were closed due to full-family sanctions in a given year would require substantial resources; (5) GAO calculated the total number of sanctions in an average month in 1998 by combining the number of full-family sanctions in an average month and the number of partial sanctions in an average month that year; (6) however, in state automated data systems, case closures associated with full-family sanctions are recorded only in the month the action is taken to close the case; (7) in contrast, benefit reductions associated with partial sanctions are recorded by states not only in the month action initiating a benefit reduction is taken, but also in each subsequent month that the benefit reduction remains in effect; and (8) as a result, a family that received a partial sanction in 1998 that remained in effect for 3 months, for example, appeared 3 times in a state's monthly numbers of partially sanctioned cases that year, while a family that received a full-family sanction was counted only in the month the case was closed due to full-family sanction.

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