Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) provides cash assistance and help in moving from welfare to work for low-income families with children. TANF replaced the precursor federal program Aid to Families with Dependent Children in 1996. The changes were substantial. Instead of open-ended federal funding matching state expenditures on at least a one-to-one basis, TANF provides flat funding to states based on the amount they received just before the new law was enacted. Assistance to families is also no longer open-ended – federal funds cannot provide cash benefits for more than 60 months, lifetime; states can set shorter time limits if they choose. In addition, parents receiving TANF must participate in work activities as a condition of receiving benefits.

    Since 1996, the TANF caseload has been reduced by more than half. Many families have left welfare for work, although often not at above-poverty wages. However, troubling numbers of families have left TANF without being able to secure steady employment. Families in this situation are disproportionately likely to suffer from disabilities and low skills. Their problems make it difficult for them to comply with program rules, and they are pushed off assistance. One study found that children in families that have lost TANF assistance were more likely to have health problems and be admitted to the hospital.

    In 1997, for every 100 families in poverty, 60 received benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.  However, by 2010, only 27 families received TANF benefits for every 100 in poverty.   At the start of the recession, 1.69 million families were on TANF, by December 2010, despite the ravages of the recession this number had only risen to 1.94 million–an increase of 25,000 families–far below the 4 million families served in 1997 when the economy was booming.

    For more information on this issue, visit CHN’s Public Policy Priorities, 2013-2014.

    CBPP: An Introduction to TANF

    Advocacy Organizations

    Center for Community Change
    Center for Law and Social Policy
    Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
    Children’s Defense Fund
    Legal Momentum
    National Immigration Law Center
    National Women’s Law Center
    Voices for America’s Children