Welfare Reform:

State Sanction Policies and Number of Families Affected

HEHS-00-44: Published: Mar 31, 2000. Publicly Released: Apr 7, 2000.

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Cynthia Maher Fagnoni
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on state sanctions for families under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program who do not comply with the program's requirements, focusing on: (1) state sanction policies under TANF; (2) state procedures to reconcile noncompliance before imposing sanctions and state policies on families' right to appeal sanctions; (3) the number of benefit reductions and terminations that result from sanctions; and (4) state studies of families whose benefits are reduced or terminated as a result of sanctions.

GAO noted that: (1) under TANF, all states have policies requiring sanctions when a family member fails to comply with work requirements; (2) the first time a family member fails to comply, policies in 36 states call for a reduction in the family's cash benefits, known as a partial sanction; (3) if a family member fails repeatedly to comply, policies in 37 states call for termination of the family's entire cash benefit, known as a full-family sanction; (4) the details of these policies vary considerably among states; (5) under most state policies, the first sanction lasts up to a month or until the family member begins to comply with work requirements, but for repeated noncompliance, the sanction lasts at least 3 months, even if the family member comes back into compliance during that time; (6) generally, states' policies regarding mandatory sanctions for failing to cooperate with child support enforcement efforts are similar to those for failing to meet work requirements, but both policies tend to be more stringent than the sanction policies for noncompliance with optional state requirements, such as children's immunization and school attendance; (7) most states hold caseworkers responsible for making sanction decisions; (8) before sanction decisions are made, policies in 31 states require that caseworkers contact TANF family members to try to resolve the noncompliance through conciliation; (9) according to policies in these states, the conciliation process should include actions such as notifying TANF family members that they are not complying with program requirements, warning them that their benefits will be reduced or terminated, and offering them an opportunity to avoid benefit cuts or terminations by justifying their failure to comply or by returning to compliance; (10) the remaining 20 states either have no conciliation process or have conciliation procedures that do not apply to all instances of noncompliance; (11) once a sanction decision is made, all states have policies that require TANF families to be notified by mail before their cash benefits are reduced or terminated and to be informed of their right to appeal the decision to a higher authority; (12) during an average month in 1998, about 135,800 families received reduced benefits or no TANF benefits at all as a result of sanctions; (13) most sanctions were partial, reducing cash benefits to about 112,700 families in an average month; (14) the remainder were full-family sanctions that stopped all cash benefits for about 23,100 families in an average month; and (15) limited information is available on the characteristics of families who received sanctions and what happened to them.

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