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After 20 Years, TANF Provides Little to Poor Families

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Twenty years after Temporary Assistance for Needy Families’ (TANF) inception, few poor families actually receive cash assistance under it and, for those who do, state benefit levels are low and are losing value.  Our new series of maps illustrates the decline of this cash assistance safety net.

The maps showcase three different aspects of TANF’s safety net and illustrate how they’ve varied over time and from state to state.  Users can select maps that display for each state:

  • Maximum TANF cash assistance benefit levels as a share of the federal poverty line
  • Decline in the inflation-adjusted value of cash benefit levels
  • Number of families receiving cash assistance for every 100 poor families with children

All of the maps provide data since TANF’s 1996 inception.  As users click across the years, they can see how TANF’s reach and the adequacy of its benefits have fallen over time.  

Users can get state-specific data by hovering over and clicking on a state.  For example, a visitor interested in Kansas can learn from the maps that:

  • Kansas’ current benefit level of $429 for a family of three hasn’t changed in nominal dollars since 1996.
  • The share of the federal poverty line that the benefits represent dropped from about 40 percent in 1996 to about 26 percent in 2015.
  • The benefit level has fallen by 34 percent in inflation-adjusted value since 1996.
  • The number of Kansas families receiving cash assistance for every 100 poor families fell from 51 in 1995-96 to 13 in 2013-14.

State fact sheets, linked below the maps, include additional data. 

Ife Floyd

Director of TANF Research and Analysis