TANF Sanctions: What Are My Rights?

Authored By: Georgia Legal Services Program® LSC Funded


TANF SANCTIONS: What Are My Rights?

Nancy Lindbloom
Georgia Legal Services Program
Last Revised: August 2002

Q: What happens if I fail to comply with the TANF work activity requirements?
Failure to comply with the work activity requirement will result in a violation of your TANF agreement and you will be subject to a penalty or sanction. There are severe penalties in Georgia's TANF program unless you have "good cause" (a good reason) for not complying.

Here are some examples that would subject you to a sanction unless you had a a showing of good cause:
* you fail to keep appointments
* you refuse to report to assigned activities
* you refuse to report for a job interview
* you refuse to accept suitable child care, transportation or other support
* you cause a serious disruption at your work site
* you failure to meet the required hours per week
* you quit a job without good cause or prior consultation with case manager

Q: What is a "good cause"?
Examples of a good cause for not complying with TANF work activities are:
* illness or medical condition which is obvious or otherwise substantiated
* court required appearances
* child care, transportation, or social services are not available
* domestic violence issues
* conflicting Personal Work Plan and Personal Responsibility Plan requirements
* job offer is below minimum wage
* custodial care for incapacitated individual that resides in recipient's home is unavailable
* mandatory participant now meets the exemption criteria and wants to withdraw (recipient must not have claimed exemption status before)

EXAMPLE: If Mary Jones couldn't go to her TANF work site at the Senior Citizens Center because:
* her babysitter called her at the last minute and said she couldn't look after the children, and there was no one else to replace her; OR
* she had a seizure, and when to her doctor; OR
* her disabled brother who lives with her and requires 24 hour care, has no one to stay with him; OR
* her ex-husband who's been abusing her came by that morning, and threatened her,
Then, she has a good reason or "good cause" for not being qt her work site, and she shouldn't be sanctioned or penalized by DFCS. It's important to let your DFCS worker know about your "good cause" reason right away.

Q: What is a Conciliation Letter?
When the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) decides you have violated a TANF work requirement for failure to participate, they will send you a Conciliation Letter. This letter describes the failure to participate and schedules a conciliation appointment.

It is at the conciliation appointment, that your DFCS worker is supposed to tell you what good cause is and ask you why you didn't comply with the requirements.

Q: What happens at the Conciliation Appointment?
* The DFCS worker sends you a letter within 7 days of knowledge of the failure to participate. The conciliation appointment is supposed to be scheduled ASAP, but no later than fourteen days. At the conciliation appointment you have a chance to explain if you have good cause.
* If you go to the conciliation appointment and explain your good cause and the DFCS worker agrees you will not be sanctioned.
* If you go to the appointment, but the DFCS worker does not agree that you had good cause, then the you will be referred for sanction. It is important to remember you have a right to a hearing if DFCS says you do not have good cause.
* If you do not go to the conciliation appointment, the DFCS worker will recommend that your case be closed. If your case is closed and you later reapply for TANF benefits, you will have to go through the conciliation process before your benefits are reinstated.

Q: What are the penalties I face for failure to participate?
A 1st time sanction for failure to participate results in a 25% reduction in the cash assistance the family receives for up to 3 months. This counts as strike one, however if you are able to make a showing of good cause then regardless of the violation, the failure to participate will not subject the recipient to a first strike.
The 2nd time a violation occurs without a showing of good cause your TANF benefits will be cut off and you are dropped from the program permanently.
IMPORTANT: You have a right to a hearing to challenge the sanctions, but you must make a request within 30 days.

Q: How can I come into compliance?
For a 1st sanction, you can have the 25% reduction in benefits reinstated if you make a "request to comply" within three months of the sanction.

Your request to comply should be made to the DFCS worker. The worker will then write up a compliance agreement. This agreement says exactly what you must do for compliance, as well as:
* the activities the participant must complete
* the number of hours per week to be completed in each activity
* the start and end dates of the compliance period (NOTE: This period should not
exceed 2 weeks)
* the consequences of failure to fulfill the terms of the agreement
You may be asked to go back to your old work activity site, or you might be placed in another work activity. This should be done within 3 days of completing a compliance agreement. During the compliance period, you are entitled to receive support services (child care, transportation, etc.) and this should not be interrupted.
If you meet the conditions of the compliance agreement the DFCS worker will lift the sanction.

Q: How do I request a hearing from the DFCS?
If you get TANF benefits and disagree with the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) you have the right to a fair hearing. To get a fair hearing tell your DFCS worker that you want one, and put the request in writing. You must ask for a hearing within 30 days. If you ask for the hearing within 10 days you TANF benefits will keep coming at the old amount.

At the hearing you have the right to :
* examine the contents of the record and all documents on which the department will rely prior to the hearing
* present the case with or without legal representation
* request assistance for transportation to the hearing
* bring and/or subpoena witnesses
* determine all pertinent facts and circumstances
* present arguments without undue interference
* confront and question any adverse witnesses

Hearings are conducted by the Office of State Administrative Hearings (OSAH) by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ is required to be impartial and render an initial decision within 90 days from the date the written request was received by the agency, unless there is a postponement or continuance. Decisions that are favorable to the recipient are final upon receipt, however, those that are not favorable to the recipient do not become final until 30 after receipt. No action should be taken to reduce or to terminate assistance until the decision becomes final.

Q: Can I get help with the hearing?
Georgia Legal Services Program may be able to help you with the hearing. Contact you local GLSP office as soon as possible.

Nancy Lindbloom
Georgia Legal Services Program
Last Revised: August 2002


Last Review and Update: Aug 29, 2002