March 23, 2011
LIMITS ON PUBLIC ASSISTANCE BENEFITS WHEN MOTHER REFUSES TO IDENTIFY CHILD'S FATHER
By: Susan Price, Senior Attorney
You asked if states deny or reduce family cash assistance benefits when an applicant or recipient does not cooperate in identifying, locating, and establishing the paternity of her children's father or fathers.
All states' Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)-funded cash assistance programs reduce cash welfare benefits when the administering state agency determines that a mother is not cooperating in identifying, locating, or establishing paternity of her child's father. The cooperation requirement is intended to assist the state in establishing child support orders from absent parents, thereby reducing the amount of cash assistance that it pays the family.
Under the TANF law, each state's penalty for refusing to cooperate must be at least 25% of the amount of cash assistance the recipient and her children would otherwise receive; it may be a basis for denying benefits altogether. However, states must also have a good cause exception – legally acceptable reasons for not cooperating, such as the likelihood that doing so would result in physical injury to any person (42 U.S.C. § 608(a)(2)9A).
STATES' NONCOOPERATION PENALTIES
The federal TANF statute and its regulations require each state to file a plan with the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services describing, among other things, the state's noncooperation penalty. We checked plans in Connecticut and 11 other states (California, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin). In all but two (Michigan and Ohio), the family is ineligible for the program until the parent cooperates.
In Michigan, the administering agency has discretion to fashion a remedy, which must include family ineligibility for at least one month. In Ohio, the sanction is one month's ineligibility for the first instance of noncooperation, three months for the second, and six months for the third.