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In 2004, the California legislature passed a bill that tightened the participation requirement for California’s welfare program, the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids program (CalWORKs) and mandated a study of CalWORKs sanction policy for participant noncompliance in the welfare-to-work program. RAND was asked by the California Department of Social Services to carry out this study. Researchers found that county welfare caseworkers’ implementation of the state’s statutory sanction policy makes the sanctions weaker in practice than might have been expected given stated policy. Both caseworkers and higher-level county welfare department employees are strongly reluctant to sanction clients. Furthermore, caseworkers perceive the statutory noncompliance process to be burdensome. Finally, the implementation of sanction policy varies widely across California’s 58 counties. RAND noted three possible directions for reforming California’s sanction policy and practice: (1) swifter sanctions, (2) stronger sanctions with greater financial penalties, and (3) safer sanctions, to ensure that clients are not inappropriately sanctioned due to some combination of caseworker error, lack of knowledge of how to remedy the sanction, or the existence of undisclosed serious barriers.

The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Labor and Population under a contract with the California Department of Social Services (CDSS).

This report is part of the RAND technical report series. RAND technical reports may include research findings on a specific topic that is limited in scope or intended for a narrow audience; present discussions of the methodology employed in research; provide literature reviews, survey instruments, modeling exercises, guidelines for practitioners and research professionals, and supporting documentation; or deliver preliminary findings. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure that they meet high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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