What Is TANF?
Congress created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant through the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, as part of a federal effort to “end welfare as we know it.” TANF replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), which had provided cash welfare to poor families with children since 1935.
Congress created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant. as part of a federal effort to ‘end welfare as we know it.’ Under TANF, the federal government provides a block grant to the states, which use these funds to operate their own programs. In order to receive federal funds, states must also spend some of their own dollars on programs for needy families (they face severe fiscal penalties if they fail to do so). This state-spending requirement, known as the “maintenance of effort” (MOE) requirement, replaced the state match that AFDC had required.
States can use federal TANF and state MOE dollars to meet any of the four goals set out in the 1996 law: “(1) provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives; (2) end the dependence
of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage; (3) prevent and reduce the incidence of out of wedlock pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of these pregnancies; and (4) encourage the formation and maintenance of two parent families.”
How TANF Dollars Are Spent
States have used their TANF funds for a variety of services and supports, including: income assistance (including wage supplements for working-poor families), child care, education and job training, transportation, aid to children at risk of abuse and neglect, and a variety of other services to help low-income families. Since the four TANF goals are extremely general, states can use TANF funds much more broadly than the core welfare reform areas of providing a safety net and connecting families to work; some states use a substantial share of funding for these other services and programs.
The 1996 law authorized TANF funding through federal fiscal year 2002. After several short-term extensions, Congress reauthorized TANF for another five years in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 and made some modifications to the program. Since October 2010, Congress has again continued to extend TANF with short-term extensions rather than a full reauthorization.