WorkFirst HandBook


3.6 Non-compliance Sanction Policy

Legal References:

The Non-compliance Sanction Policy section is divided in three separate sub-sections:

3.6.1 Entering Sanction What is the Non-compliance Sanction policy?

The non-compliance sanction (NCS) policy ends WorkFirst cash assistance when adults refuse to do their part to actively prepare for and seek employment, or otherwise participate, for four months in a row. We do not require dependent teens to participate and do not sanction them for failure to participate.

The ultimate goal of the NCS policy is to re-engage WorkFirst families currently in sanction status and to encourage them to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the program. Sanction is not a punishment, but instead it is a tool to promote personal accountability and responsibility.

The policy is designed to provide numerous opportunities for the parent(s) to re-engage in appropriate WorkFirst activities and address any barriers to participation. For best results, staff should intervene early and take any opportunity to contact the people who are in non-compliance with their WorkFirst requirements. What are sanctions?

A sanction is a penalty that reduces the family's WorkFirst cash assistance by the person's share, or 40%, whichever is more. We impose a sanction penalty when a person is able, but refuses without good cause to:

If we discover a person is unable to participate in the activities in the IRP, we may: How long do sanctions last?

We count months of sanction because adults who stay in sanction for four months in a row without good cause may lose their cash assistance. July 2010 begins the start of counting of months in sanction, even if a person has been in sanction before that date.

If a sanctioned person exits WorkFirst cash assistance after July 1, 2010 and the person is still in sanction status when the case is reopened, the sanction count continues where it left off before the case was closed. For example, a WorkFirst cash assistance case is closed effective December 1, 2010, while in the second month of sanction. If the person reapplies anytime thereafter, he or she will be in month three of sanction if the case is reopened, unless they are unable to participate. Please refer to section – How might changes in circumstances changes a person’s grant, IRP or cure requirements? When do I send a good cause appointment/NCS case staffing letter?

When a person is not participating as required, the WFPS/SW will receive an immediate notification from the service provider. When this occurs, the WFPS/SW does a CAP with the provider, and if the parent is referred back to the CSO, determines whether or not the parent had a good reason for not participating. (See How do we treat excused and unexcused absences step-by-step.)

WAC 388-310-1600(2) states parents have 10 days to contact us when they don’t meet WorkFirst requirements so they can talk to us about the situation. Parents can contact us in writing, by phone, by going to the appointment described in their good cause letter, or by asking for a different appointment time. It also states we must always send a good cause letter and give the parent 10 calendar days to provide information about why there may "good cause" for not complying. This ensures:

All of the steps of the good cause process must be followed, even if you are able to reach the person by phone to discuss the situation. You need to complete a thorough review of the case and document that the review has been conducted and that the person had the opportunity to explain the non-participation.

If a person calls or comes in prior to the scheduled good cause appointment and wants to participate – you have two choices:

If the parent does not wish to waive their 10-day notice, attempt to re-engage them at the scheduled good cause/NCS case staffing.

If you give a parent less than 10 calendar days to establish good cause or make the good cause determination over the phone without sending a letter, the case is not procedurally correct and the sanction is invalid. What is the good cause 10-day period?

In counting the 10 days, day 1 begins when the "good cause" letter is mailed or given to the parent. This is the same as how we count the 10-day period for adverse action notices. You must allow for an additional business day when the letter is not mailed out the same day that it is generated (either locally or centrally printed in Olympia). If the 10th day falls on a weekend or holiday, the parent has until the following business day to provide the information requested.

Document in eJAS if you handed the parent the good cause letter or printed it locally and placed it in outgoing CSO mail before the afternoon local mail cutoff.

All examples assume that today's date is 8/4/2010:

Day 1 is 8/4/10 and Day 10 is 8/13/10.

Day 1 is 8/4/10 and Day 10 is 8/13/10.

Day 1 is 8/4/10 and Day 10 is 8/16/10.

A WFPS chooses central print to mail the good cause letter to the parent. The letter will be mailed out the next business day. The date on the letter is 8/4/10. Since 8/14/10 falls on a weekend, the parent has until the end of the next business day (8/16/10) to provide good cause. How do I set up the good cause/NCS case staffing?

The first step is to set up a good cause appointment/NCS case staffing with the person to find out if there is a good reason for not participating. Mail a good cause (WorkFirst Non-Participation 085-01) appointment letter to the person. The appointment date must be within the 10-day good cause period.

The next step is to make arrangements for the good cause/NCS case staffing. As you do this, make sure you comply with any limited-English proficiency (LEP) and Equal Access (EA) plans so you will be able to communicate effectively with the non-participating person.

You will conduct a NCS case staffing during the good cause appointment to decide whether to initiate a sanction for refusal to participate without good cause. Follow the procedures in section 3.5 Case Staffing to set up the staffing. You must also document any information the person gives you about the non-participation (phone calls or documents) before the case staffing occurs.

Include the following people in the case staffing:

Make sure that a minimum of two professionals will attend the case staffing. Remember that the assigned worker (WFPS or WFSSS) counts as one professional. In no case can a case manager be the only one making a decision to sanction. What if the parent’s mail is returned by the post office?

Returned mail may prevent us from putting parents into sanction status. For example, if a parent’s IRP is returned, they would have good cause for failure to participate because they did not know what was required. We also cannot place a parent into sanction if their good cause interview appointment letter is returned by the post office because they have a right to attend those case staffings.

However, once the sanction decision is made, per WAC 388-458-0025 and 388-310-1600(4), we are only obligated to send out a 10-day change in benefits letter. There are no provisions to lift sanction/reinstate full benefits if the change in benefits letter is returned by the post office.

In these cases, the grant will likely be closed for loss of contact. If the parent reapplies, staff should reissue the adverse action notice and open the case in sanction. What happens at the good cause/NCS case staffing?

There are two stages at the NCS case staffing. First, determine if the parent has good cause for failure to meet WorkFirst requirements. Second, if you determine the parent doesn’t have good cause, use the eJAS Non-Compliance Case Staffing & Review Criteria tool to determine the next appropriate step for the parent.

As you conduct the case staffing, comply with any LEP and EA plans so you can communicate as effectively as possible with the non-participating person. Use the case staffing guidelines established under 3.5.1 What is a Case Staffing?

Once you have made the decision, document issues discussed and the results of the case staffing. Explain why the department determined good cause or decided to sanction, using the NCS Case Staffing Documentation Standard. You must also send the parent a case staffing results letter. How do I decide if the parent has good cause?

Our goal is to involve people in WorkFirst activities to increase their family's ability to earn a living and provide support for their children, not to place them in sanction status. It is very important to determine and document whether a person is refusing, or unable to comply. If a person is unable to comply and tells us why, then we can work more effectively with that person and his or her family.

We need to be particularly careful not to place people in sanction status who do not comply because they do not have affordable or appropriate child care, and don't know what help is available. There is a special brochure (WorkFirst Opportunities Brochure DSHS 22-1125 ) that you can use to give basic Child Care information to all persons who face sanction.

Anyone who is not fully participating as required has good cause if they are unable to do the required WorkFirst activities, or if there are significant barriers outside of their control that prevent full participation. Problems that may prevent compliance, and that should be reviewed with every individual before being placed in sanction may include having:

Non-participation due to unexcused absences will not be considered good cause unless there is a significant circumstance outside of the person's control, such as family violence or hospitalization that made it impossible for the person to call in to get the absence excused.

If you don’t have enough information to make a good cause decision, give the non-participating person a written request for any needed additional proof. For example, if the person reports a new barrier, it is critical to give/send the person a letter requesting documentation or verification of the barrier. Do not send a recommendation to impose a sanction until a decision has been made based on the verification provided.

If we find the parent had good cause for failure to participate in his or her assigned activities, document the decision in eJAS sanction case notes using the NCS documentation standard. Determination of good cause requires a change in the IRP to reflect the appropriate activities and level of services the person needs to successfully participate in the program and may require:

3.6.10 What if I determine the parent did not have good cause?

If you determine the person did not have good cause for failure to participate, complete the eJAS Non-Compliance Sanction Case Staffing & Review Criteria tool (NCS eJAS tool).

The purpose of the NCS eJAS tool is to document that the sanction process was followed, the person was given every opportunity to participate, and that others have reviewed the case and agree with any sanction decision. It also helps you determine the next appropriate step based on all available information. The person could be placed in sanction or be re-engaged.

In addition go over the following as you go through the NCS case staffing & review tool: What if the person fails to attend the good cause appointment/NCS case staffing?

If the person fails to attend the good cause appointment/NCS case staffing: What is the NCS case staffing documentation standard?

In addition to any eJAS Case Staffing documentation, you must include the following information:

3.6.13 What do I do after the NCS case staffing?

After the NCS case staffing, send the case staffing result letter explaining:

The WFPS or WFSSS sends any sanction recommendation to the supervisor or designee for approval. If the sanction is approved, the WFPS or WFSSS applies the sanction and sends an adverse action notice. When do I send an adverse action notice?

The department cannot sanction parents when an adequate time frame of 10 days was not provided. The earliest date you can make the sanction decision and send out the adverse action notice depends on whether the parent contacts you within the 10-day good cause period.

WAC 388-310-1600(5) states once we decide that a parent did not have a good reason for failing to meet WorkFirst requirements, we must tell the parent what he or she failed to do. This must be added to the parent's adverse action notice. We must tell the parent how to cure their sanction.

The parent needs to know what in the Individual Responsibility Plan was not complied with. This is particularly important when there is more than one activity. We must state who did not do the activity as there may be more than one mandatory participant in the family.

To summarize, include the following information in the adverse action letter:

Please note that staff only needs to enter the information corresponding to the first three bullets. The rest of the information is automatically printed on the letter.

If these points are not met in the notice of adverse action, then the requirements have not been met and the family cannot be placed in sanction status. eJAS/ACES codes

When someone is sanctioned, use the following ACES and eJAS codes: Sanctions - Step-by-step guide

Note: The NCS process and automated supports track each specific incidence of non-participation. If you consider sanction again based on another incidence of non-participation, you must conduct new appointments and create a separate NCS eJAS tool.

A. Setting up the good cause/NCS case staffing appointment

The WFPS or WFSSS identifies persons who are not complying with program requirements and:

  1. Sends the person the WorkFirst Non-Participation Appointment letter (085-01) scheduling a good cause/NCS Case Staffing appointment within 10 calendar days to find out if there is good cause for noncompliance:
    1. Addresses the letter to the sanctioned parent..
    2. Specifies in the body of the letter who is in noncompliance.
    3. Adds the required text explaining what the person failed to do.
    4. Tells them they can choose to bring anyone they want to the appointment.
    5. Adds the following text to the letter regarding the case staffing and who has been invited to attend. “At this appointment, we will also be reviewing your participation in the WorkFirst program with other involved agency staff. I have invited (list agency staff) to this appointment.”
  2. Closes affected component code(s) with IC and contractor code(s) with actual ending date.
  3. Enters PR component code in eJAS with a scheduled end date that coincides with the good cause appointment date, not to exceed 14 calendar days.
  4. Invites at least two other relevant professionals, such as a social service specialist or someone from another agency who is working with the person, to the good cause/NCS case staffing appointment. A minimum of two professionals is required with the assigned worker (WFPS or WFSSS) counting as one professional.
  5. Documents that we determined whether Children’s Administration (CA) was involved with the family, and if so, that CA was invited to the good cause/NCS case staffing appointment.

B. Conducting the good cause/NCS case staffing interview

At the good cause/NCS case staffing appointment, with appropriate professionals, the WFPS/SW:

  1. Determines whether good cause exists by:
    1. Reviewing available information and determining if activities were appropriate.
    2. Discussing program requirements with the individual and what they failed to do.
    3. Discussing strengths and barriers with the individual.
  2. If the person doesn’t have good cause:
    1. Ensure the person was given 10 days to contact the office and establish good cause.
    2. Explain why the department is recommending sanction.
    3. Explain that the person can be permanently disqualified from receiving TANF/SFA once they have been closed for NCS three times, going back to March 1, 2007.
    4. Ensure the person knows how many NCS closures they have had.
    5. Offer re-engagement.
    6. If the person agrees to participate, complete or schedule the CE and modify IRP, as required, based on the CE outcome.
    7. Conduct a Child Safety review to help the person plan for case closure, including:
      1. How the person plans to support their family once they lose cash aid.
      2. Explaining the possible continuation of Washington Apple Health and Basic Food Assistance.
      3. Providing a list of community resources (like WIC) that are available to help meet the family’s need.
      4. Explaining they will be able to apply for CEAP at reapplication if the case is closed for non-compliance sanction.
  3. If the person doesn’t attend, bases the decision on all available information, such as case notes or medical records.

C. Processing good cause determinations

  1. When it is determined the person has good cause, the WFPS/SW:
    1. Closes the PR component code.
    2. Enters the appropriate codes for the required activities.
    3. Adjusts the IRP.
    4. Makes appropriate referrals.
    5. Authorizes support services as needed.
    6. Documents the decision in eJAS sanction case notes using the NCS documentation standard.
  2. When it is determined the person doesn’t have good cause, the WFPS/SW:
    1. Completes the NCS eJAS tool questions 1 through 15, using the NCS documentation standard, and refers to the supervisor or designee for approval.
    2. Sends the case staffing results letter including:
      1. Who attended the good cause/NCS case staffing,
      2. What the person failed to comply with originally,
      3. The results of the NCS staffing, and
      4. Any recommendation to impose sanction.
    3. Mails a local resource list if the individual does not show up for the case staffing (which counts as a Child Safety Review).
    4. Monitors the NCS Review Pathway report in the Caseload Management Report (CLMR) for supervisor/designee decision.

D.   Processing Sanction Decisions

  1. The CSO Supervisor/designee routinely monitors the Clients Awaiting Sanction/Term/Recon Approval report in eJAS for individuals newly referred for sanction. When a person is referred for sanction, the supervisor/designee will:
    1. Review the NCS eJAS tool questions 1 through 15 to ensure:
      1. Policy was followed.
      2. Entries are accurate.
      3. Documentation is complete.
      4. There is no issue with returned mail, such as the IRP, eJAS appointment letters, or the good cause appointment letter (AOL 85-01).
    2. Complete question 16 of the NCS eJAS tool to document the sanction decision.
      1. A denial returns the document (monitored through the NCS Review Pathway report) to the WFPS/SW for further action. The WFPS/SW can either modify the NCS Review Criteria and resend it to the supervisor/designee for review, or complete the review by clicking the ‘Complete/Do Not Send to Sanction Review Panel’ button.
      2. An approval approves sanction and allows for the reduction of benefits.
      3. Entry of brief additional comments is optional.
  2. The WFPS/SW can monitor the decision of the supervisor/designee on the Clients Awaiting Sanction/Term/Recon Approval report. Once a decision has been made, the WFPS/SW will:
    1. If the case is sent back for rework, make the necessary corrections and resubmit to the supervisor/designee.
    2. If the sanction is denied:
      1. Complete the NCS eJAS tool, and
      2. Schedule/contact the person for IRP development.
    3. If the sanction is approved:
      1. Process the sanction in ACES and eJAS,
      2. Notify CSC to terminate Working Connections Child Care assistance (except for employment purposes),
      3. Actively attempt monthly follow-up and re-engagement contacts with the sanctioned person to discuss the benefits of participation and explain how to cure sanction.

E. ACES Processing for Approved Sanctions

If the supervisor or designee approves sanction, the WFPS/SW will:

  1. Code an RE or SN on the sanctioned individual’s WORK screen with the effective date of the grant reduction.
  2. If the person has been on WorkFirst for over 60 months, code category 3 on the TWEP screen with a Range Begin date of the first month of sanction and Range End date of the fourth month of sanction.
  3. Send the adverse action notice, Change in Benefits (AOL 08-01) allowing for 10 day advanced notice and adding required text:
    1. Who is being placed in sanction (specific person).
    2. What they failed to do (specific activity in IRP).
    3. That the specific person is in sanction status.
    4. The penalties that will be applied to the grant.
    5. When the penalties will be applied.
    6. Fair hearing rights.
    7. How to end the penalties and get out of sanction status.

Please note that staff only needs to enter the information corresponding to the first three bullets. The rest of the information is automatically printed on the letter.

F.   eJAS Processing for Approved Sanctions

The WFPS/SW will:

  1. Close the PR component code with the CS closing code.
  2. Terminate support services until the person starts curing the sanction.
  3. Depending on how long the person has been on WorkFirst cash assistance, enter the SA or SN component through the end of month 1 of sanction and update the codes in monthly increments.
  4. Complete NCS eJAS tool question 17:
    1. Enter the Change in Benefits letter (AOL 08-01) date.
    2. Enter the sanction effective date.
    3. Select one sanction reason.


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