The Social and Economic Impact of Sanctions and Time Limits on Recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families

Article excerpt

A central feature of the reforms enacted through the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (welfare reform) has been the adoption of strategies to involuntarily remove Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) recipients from the welfare rolls, including increased use of sanctions and time limits on welfare receipt. Drawing on data from a three year panel study of women who had been receiving welfare in a state which adopted stringent sanctioning and time limit policies, we investigate predictors of recipients' TANF status after implementation of welfare reform, and identify differences in post-reform material resources, hardships and quality of life based on TANF status. Almost half of all welfare case closures during the first time period after reforms were implemented through involuntary strategies. Relatively few baseline characteristics predicted different outcomes once welfare time limits and sanctions were implemented. Those who were timed off welfare had substantially lower incomes in the year following their removal. One third of all respondents, regardless of reason for leaving TANF reported having insufficient food, housing problems and lack of access to needed medical care.

The passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA, 1996) revamped federal welfare efforts to emphasize participation in the labor force as a primary strategy for reducing the dependence of single mothers and their children on public assistance. To amplify the consequences for failing to comply with new program requirements, Congress passed a mandatory time limit of 60 months for receipt of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and allowed states the option of imposing stricter sanctions on families that were not following through on mandated activities. As a result, states now have greater latitude to involuntarily remove TANF families from the welfare rolls, without regard to their social or economic circumstances.

Research on welfare caseloads has largely focused on identifying differences between welfare "leavers" and "stayers," but these studies have not differentiated between those who leave TANF voluntarily because they have obtained other income, and those who are removed from TANF involuntarily, either through time limits or sanctions. Descriptive information about the characteristics of sanctioned families suggests that they may possess certain demographic or human capital characteristics that may make them more vulnerable to involuntary removal. However, longitudinal research on this topic is limited. Even fewer studies have examined the longitudinal impact of involuntary leaving for TANF families' material resources, hardships, and quality of life.

Drawing on data from a three-year panel study of women who had been receiving welfare in Louisiana, a state that has adopted stringent sanctioning and time limit policies, we address the following questions:

1. What is the TANF status of study participants once welfare reform rules, including time limits and increased sanctions, have been implemented?

2. What baseline characteristics are predictive of later TANF status?

3. Are there differences in subsequent financial resources, hardships, and quality of life measures based on earlier TANF status?

Background

PRWORA replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), a means-tested public assistance program created through the Social Security Act of 1935 to provide financial assistance to impoverished single mothers with children (Gordon, 1994). A central feature of the reforms enacted through PRWORA has been the adoption of strategies to involuntarily remove TANF recipients from the welfare rolls. These strategies were designed to serve both as an anticipatory incentive to engage in work efforts and as a punishment for non-compliance with welfare regulations (Corcoran, Danziger, Kalil & Seefeldt, 2000; Ferber & Storch, 1998). …