DC Council Adopts New TANF Sanction Policy

Today, the Council adopted a new sanction policy for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, DC’s welfare-to-work initiative.  The policy reflects months of negotiations between the Department of Human Services, Human Services Committee members, and TANF advocates over how to set financial penalties that encourage parents to comply with program requirements while also protecting vulnerable children.

The TANF sanctions are imposed when a parent does not comply with expectations agreed to in their Individual Responsibility Plan (IRP), which outlines the services available to the parent and the activities she is required to participate in.  Under DC’s new TANF redesign, all new applicants develop an IRP, while current TANF recipients develop their IRP at their annual reapplication for benefits.  If a parent does not complete the activities laid out in their plan for a period of 4 to 8 weeks, the family will be subject to a sanction, a reduction in their cash benefits.

The adopted policy has 3 levels of sanctions with the severity of the sanction, increasing at each step.

  • Level One — the head of household is removed from the benefit amount. For a family of three, this means cutting benefits from $428 to $336 a month.  DC’s current sanction policy has only this level. 
  • Level Two — Under this new provision, the family receives a 50 reduction in the amount they usually receive after a second period of non-compliance.  A family of three will see their benefits drop from $428 to $214 per month.
  • Level Three — Under this provision, the family receives a full-family sanction, meaning they will receive no cash assistance for at least one month.  

To cure the sanction and return to their full benefit amount, a parent must comply with their Individual Responsibility Plan for 4 consecutive weeks.  

TANF advocates expressed serious concerns about the effects of full-family sanctions on children, particularly given research showing that that sanctioned families face more hardships than other TANF families.  In addition, research on state TANF programs has found that full-family sanctions are not a more effective way to encourage compliance than partial-benefit sanctions. 

It is noteworthy that the full-family sanctions policy adopted by the DC Council — one month — is far shorter than the initial proposal from the Department of Human Services, which would have imposed a 6-month full family sanction.  In its 11-2 vote today, the DC Council explicitly rejected the most recent DHS proposal for a 3-month full family sanction.   TANF families face many issues that make participation in work activities difficult.  Imposing a minimum duration of 3 months would have left recipients with no income and no opportunity to re-engage and get their benefits back quickly.  DC’s adopted policy is in line with 23 states that have full family sanctions but allow families to get back on TANF quickly if they comply with program requirements. 

DCFPI thanks the Council for passing a balanced TANF sanction policy and continuing to improve our TANF program so that families are on a path of progress and independence.

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