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Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
In 1996, after pledging to “end welfare as we know it,” then-President Clinton and Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, known as the welfare reform law. The law replaced the entitlement to cash assistance, known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant program.
TANF was created to reduce welfare dependency in two ways: first, by requiring recipients to work in order to receive cash assistance, and second, by limiting how long a family can receive welfare. Families with dependent children or pregnant women with an income below a percent of the federal poverty line (states choose the eligibility level) receive monthly cash assistance. Other changes to the program made in 1996 included:
States may use TANF funds for a variety of services in addition to providing cash assistance. In fact, less than 30 percent of federal and state TANF funds are spent on cash assistance, with the remainder being used for services such as child care, employment programs, education, early childhood development, and programs addressing child abuse and neglect.
TANF Falls Short in Meeting Need
In 1996, 68 families received TANF for every 100 families living in poverty; by 2012, TANF only assisted 25 out of 100 poor families. Nationwide, TANF caseloads have fallen by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011, with individual state caseload declines ranging from under 25 percent to over 80 percent. This, however, is not because people are no longer living in poverty. Studies of families that leave TANF suggest that more than 50 percent have incomes below the federal poverty line. Although many welfare recipients have found work, often, they are low-wage jobs that provide no benefits. With the economic recession and rise in unemployment, many parents who moved from welfare to work found themselves laid off, ineligible for unemployment compensation, and facing the five-year lifetime limit on welfare benefits.
RESULTS believes that to “make work pay,” families need:
These supports, rather than threats and penalties, will enable families to become self-sufficient.
RESULTS’ Recommendations during the Last TANF Reauthorization
RESULTS supported a full reauthorization of the program that does “no harm” to families or, if that is unlikely, a clean long-term extension of existing law. Our core message is that TANF should support low-income families by providing the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty, rather than just off welfare, and provide a significant increase in funding for child care. Recipients of welfare need to be able to access services that enable them to find jobs that support their families. Our specific recommendations for changes to TANF in 2005 included:
For more information on TANF and child care, please visit: