The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

State TANF Time Limit and Sanction Policies and Children's Wellbeing

Sunday, January 19, 2014: 12:15 PM
Marriott Riverwalk, Alamo Ballroom Salon E, 2nd Floor Elevator Level BR (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Julia Shu-Huah Wang, MS, MSW, Doctoral Student, Columbia University, New York, NY
Purpose: States vary in their policies on TANF time limits and sanctions for noncompliance to work requirements. How strict TANF policies may affect children’s wellbeing is a crucial question. This study examines two research questions: (1) How do strict state policies on TANF time limit and sanctions affect children’s wellbeing? (2) How does shortening of time limits in four states (serving as a natural experiment) affect children’s wellbeing?

Methods: This study uses data from the Survey on Income and Program Participation 2004 and 2008 panels. Each panel collected guardian-reported child wellbeing indicators (in areas of cognitive stimulations, family interactions, parenting stress, and child educational outcomes) at two time points (baseline and follow-up hereafter) with a 20- or 24-month interval (intervention period hereafter). I restricted the sample to children aged 0 to 17 and responded to both time points. To answer the first question, samples were further restricted to children not covered by TANF in the 12 months before baseline (N=30,860). Treated children were defined as those covered by TANF in any month during the intervention period. Propensity score matching (PSM) was employed to draw a control group with similar characteristics as the treated group. The independent variables were interactions between state policy strictness levels and TANF participation. To answer the second question, samples were restricted to children covered by TANF bothduring the 12 months before baseline and during the intervention period in 2008 panel (N=485). The independent variable was TANF coverage in states shortened the time limit during the intervention period. In all analyses, I employed difference-in-difference method to examine how changes of wellbeing were predicted by independent variable(s) while accounting for baseline child wellbeing and other child, guardian, family, state, and TANF policy characteristics. Ordinary least square was used to assess continuous changes, and ordinal logistic regression for ordinal categorical changes.

Results: TANF covered children in states with strict time limit policies (<60 months) experienced decreased parental educational expectation and increased likelihood of repeating grades, when compared to non-covered children (after PSM). The reverse was found in children covered in states with lenient time limits (no time limit or only the adult portion of benefit has time limit). Also, TANF covered children in states with strict sanctions (sanction on entire benefit or case close) experienced decreased number of dinners shared with the family and had guardians who praised them less frequently and had decreased educational expectations, and the reverse was found in children covered in states with more lenient sanctions. The exogenous policy change in shortening time limits in 4 states was found to reduce parental educational expectation of children yet decrease the likelihood of children being expelled from school.

Conclusions and Implications: Stricter TANF time limit requirements and sanctions on noncompliance may adversely impact parental educational expectation, likelihood of repeating grades, and family interactions. States considering controlling budgets and caseloads via shortening time limits or imposing stricter sanctions should consider the potential adverse impacts on children’s wellbeing.