Welfare and Work Sanctions: Examining Discretion on the Front Lines

Lens, Vicki A.

Sanctions are a key tool for enforcing welfare reform's work requirements, but little attention has been paid to how laws, administrative procedures, judicial decisions, and worker discretion interact in the application of sanctions on the front lines. This study analyzes administrative fair hearing decisions and in‐depth interviews with sanctioned recipients. The findings suggest that workers interpret and apply sanction rules narrowly, failing to distinguish procedural violations from substantive ones. It also finds that workers are skeptical about claims of good cause exceptions from work rule violations, are strict in the application of the rules governing such exceptions, and overlook rules requiring them to show that a client's action (or inaction) was willful before imposing sanctions. Sanctions are applied across various groups of clients, including those engaged in ongoing work activities, as well as those who are disadvantaged and less willing to work.



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Social Service Review

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Academic Units
Social Work
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October 16, 2012