In the United States, what is TANF?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2019
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Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is part of the American welfare system, and is designed to get funds into the hands of poor families with children in orde to assist them with rent, food, and medical care. TANF was created in 1996 to replace Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), and is part of an overall initiative to change the way in which welfare is administered in the United States. Eligible families face a number of restrictions on their aid including a lifetime cap which are designed to wean them of dependence on government assistance.

TANF takes the form of a block grant which is provided to individual states. Each state determines how to use the money individually, although it must meet certain federal requirements. The funds provided in a TANF grant must be provided directly to needy families, used to promote work and education, promote family planning, or be used to encourage two parent families which the government believes can better support children. 36% of TANF funds are used directly to provide cash assistance to needy families. 24% are used for “other services,” an umbrella label which includes family planning and some back to work programs, while 18% is used to provide childcare. Systems and administration take up 12% of the total budget, while additional work support and employment programs use 8%. The remaining 2% is used for transportation.


In order to be eligible for TANF, a family must have at least one parent and child, and have an income below a certain level. The more children, the higher this ceiling is. Two parent families can also receive assistance through TANF, if they demonstrate the need for it. In return for TANF funds, the adults must agree to participate in work programs or education designed to provide them with a career. The goal of TANF is to stabilize families in need while parents get stable jobs which will allow them to support their children.

Each state has a different name for its TANF funding. Most state names include “Family” or “Works” in the title, but have tried to avoid the use of the words “welfare” and “needy” because of their negative associations. States want to encourage families to seek out TANF assistance when they need it, and all states enforce a lifetime cap on the amount of funds a family may receive through TANF, as well as the length of time that the family can live on government support. In most cases, TANF supplements an already existing income, rather than being the sole source of survival for the family.


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Post 3

@anon22224 - TANF recipients can be "sanctioned" for not complying with the terms of the program. Basically, they do not receive their funds if they commit offenses like not showing up for scheduled meetings or not turning in certain paperwork.

Legal advocates for the needy, like Legal Momentum, claim that TANF sanctions are imposed too frequently, too often in error, and too often for very minor violations. And they cause real hardship. Families who have been sanctioned, according to Legal Momentum, often report that children or (possibly nursing or pregnant) mothers have gone hungry, the family is evicted or winds up homeless, or they go without needed medical care after suffering TANF sanctions.

Post 1

What is the impact of TANF Sanctioning?

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