What is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF)?

TANF is a block grant program to help move recipients into work and turn welfare into a program of temporary assistance. Under the welfare reform legislation of 1996, TANF replaced the old welfare programs known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training (JOBS) program and the Emergency Assistance (EA) program. The law ended federal entitlement to assistance and instead created TANF as a block grant that provides States and tribes federal funds each year. These funds cover benefits, administrative expenses, and services targeted to needy families.

Congress passed, and President Clinton signed into law, legislation that reauthorized the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program of 1996. The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 requires states to engage more TANF cases in productive work activities leading to self-sufficiency.

Major Goal

male and female construction worker

The four purposes of TANF are:
  • assisting needy families so that children can be cared for in their own homes
  • reducing the dependency of needy parents by promoting job preparation, work and marriage 
  • preventing out-of-wedlock pregnancies
  • encouraging the formation and maintenance of two-parent families

Highlights of TANF

Work Requirements:
  • Single parents are required to participate in work activities for at least 30 hours per week. Two-parent families must participate in work activities 35 or 55 hours a week, depending upon circumstances.
  • Failure to participate in work requirements can result in a reduction or termination of benefits to the family.
  • States cannot penalize single parents with a child under six for failing to meet work requirements if they cannot find adequate child care.
  • States have to ensure that 50 percent of all families and 90 percent of two-parent families are participating in work activities. If a state reduces its caseload, without restricting eligibility, it can receive a caseload reduction credit. This credit reduces the minimum participation rates the state must achieve.

Work Activities – Activities that count toward a state’s participation rates (some restrictions may apply):
  • unsubsidized or subsidized employment
  • on-the-job training
  • work experience
  • community service
  • job search – not to exceed 6 total weeks and no more than 4 consecutive weeks
  • vocational training – not to exceed 12 months
  • job skills training related to work
  • satisfactory secondary school attendance
  • providing child care services to individuals who are participating in community service

Time Limit:
  • Families with an adult who has received federally funded assistance for a total of five years (or less at state option) are not eligible for cash aid under the TANF program.
  • States may extend assistance beyond 60 months to not more than 20 percent of their caseload. They may also elect to provide assistance to families beyond 60 months using state-only funds or Social Services Block Grants.

Personal Employability Plans:
  • States must make an initial assessment of a recipient’s skills.
  • States may develop personal responsibility plans for each recipient to identify the education, training, and job placement services needed to move into the workforce.

Request for Cash, Food Assistance and Medical Assistance (PDF)
Request for Cash, Food Assistance and Medical Assistance (Spanish) (PDF)
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