The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program was created by what is commonly referred to as “welfare reform” in 1996. It replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) as the program through which some low-income families are able to receive cash assistance.
With TANF authorization expiring at the end of March and needing to be renewed (and hopefully improved)—and over 46 million people still living below the poverty line of $23,021 for a family of four—here are ten things you should know about the program:
1) There is no cash entitlement program for people living in poverty in the United States. States (including Washington, DC), the tribes and the territories have wide discretion, so there are more than fifty different TANF systems in the country.
2) Most people in poverty do not receive cash assistance. In 1996, for every 100 families with children in poverty, there were 68 families who accessed cash assistance. In 2011, for every 100 families with children in poverty, 27 accessed cash assistance.
3) Over the last sixteen years, the number of people receiving TANF cash assistance has declined by 60 percent, even as poverty and deep poverty—people living below half the poverty line—have increased.
4) TANF is reaching fewer children. In 1995, AFDC kept more than 2.2 million poor children—over 62 percent of all poor children—out of deep poverty. In 2005, TANF lifted just 21 percent of children who would otherwise be in deep poverty, or just 650,000 kids.
5) The cash benefit is less than 50 percent of the poverty line in every state—so less than $9,000 for a family of three—and less than 30 percent of the poverty line in most states, or less than $5,500 annually for a family of three.
6) The TANF block grant has been frozen since 1996 so its value in real terms has declined by over 30 percent. Congress also recently failed to fund the Supplemental Grants for seventeen poorer states that had received them since 1996, reducing the overall funding of these high-poverty states by as much as 10 percent.