TANF stands for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the federal name for the national assistance program for needy families with children. TANF is often referred to as “welfare.” The majority of families assisted by TANF are families headed by a single mother.
In support of our mission to ensure economic and personal security for all women and girls, Legal Momentum advocates for TANF improvements. Currently, benefits are insufficient, work requirements fail to account for childcare needs, and barriers prevent many of those who are eligible from receiving desperately-needed assistance.
TANF is administered by the states under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). TANF was enacted in 1996 to replace Aid to Families with Dependent Children. The federal TANF statute and regulations are available at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ofa/programs/tanf/laws-regulations.
Every state has a TANF program. However, some states use a different name for their program. Detailed information about a state’s TANF program is generally available on the web site of the agency that administers TANF within the state. Links to the state TANF agency web sites are available at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ofa/help.
TANF substituted a fixed block grant for AFDC’s open-ended funding. Under TANF, the enrollment rate has declined from 79% to 40% of eligible families and from about 75% to about 25% of the number of poor families; benefit levels in every state have fallen to less than half of the poverty standard; real federal funding has decreased almost 30%; the share of program funds used for basic assistance has shrunk from over 70% to around 30%; the program has responded slowly and weakly or not at all to recession and economic downturn; and arbitrary interstate and regional disparities persist.
In TANF, each state determines its own benefit levels. Benefit level amounts vary with family size. Participating families without income usually receive monthly grants equal to the benefit level amount, while families with income usually receive monthly grants based on the difference between the benefit level and their income.
Although most states have increased nominal TANF benefits at least once since TANF was created, the increases have not been enough to offset inflation. In all states the TANF benefit is now less than half the poverty level, and in a majority of states it is now less than 30% of the poverty level.