Welfare Reform/TANF

Chart Book: TANF at 18

Eighteen years ago, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant was created as a part of the 1996 welfare reform law to replace the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program.

Taking into account the full 18 years of TANF’s history, this chart book illustrates the following facts:

  • Over time, TANF has provided basic cash assistance to fewer and fewer needy families, even when need has increased.
  • During the recession and slow recovery, TANF served few families in need. 
  • The amount of cash assistance provided to families has eroded in almost every state, leaving families without sufficient funds to meet their most basic needs.
  • TANF plays much less of a role in reducing poverty than AFDC did — and the provision of less cash assistance has contributed to an increase in deep or extreme poverty.
  • Although a key focus of welfare reform was on increasing employment among cash assistance recipients, states spend little of their TANF funds to help improve recipients’ employability.   
  • Employment among single mothers increased in the 1990’s, but welfare reform was only one of several contributing factors — and most of the early gains have been lost.


TANF Cash Benefits Continued To Lose Value in 2013

Cash assistance benefits for the nation's poorest families with children fell again in purchasing power in 2013 and are now at least 20 percent below their 1996 levels in 37 states, after adjusting for inflation.

TANF provides a safety net to relatively few poor families: in 2012, just 25 families received TANF benefits for every 100 poor families, down from 68 families receiving TANF for every 100 in poverty in 1996. But for the families that participate in the program, it often is their only source of support, and without it, they would have no cash income to meet their basic needs.




The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant provides federal funds to states for income assistance programs for poor families with children, welfare-to-work efforts, work supports such as child care, and other social services for low-income families.  Roughly 4 million Americans receive TANF-funded assistance.

Policy Basics:
An Introduction to TANF

Featured Experts

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The Center conducts research and analysis on federal TANF issues as well as state policy choices and implementation issues.  We also provide technical assistance to state policymakers and policy analysts to help states design their TANF programs to reach more eligible families and meet families’ particular needs.

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