Despite the rhetoric about the success of the 1996 welfare law that created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, the facts show otherwise, as we detail in our updated chart book.
TANF serves few poor families with children and hasn’t provided an effective safety net that could give poor children an opportunity to succeed in school and life. And, although TANF is supposed to focus on work, in reality states invest few TANF funds in preparing parents for work or helping them obtain good jobs. State efforts related to work activities often focus on documenting and measuring participation in a limited set of activities — those that often are a mismatch for the skills employers need and the training and education that could help TANF families most.
TANF is approaching its 19th anniversary on Saturday in desperate need of improvements. The good news is that TANF can improve, with changes in the long-overdue renewal of the TANF law, as I explain in a new commentary. The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources recently released a Discussion Draft of legislation that could help pave the way for important and needed changes. That draft doesn’t go far enough, however, in addressing some of TANF’s worst shortcomings. Policymakers should start with the draft legislation and should add key improvements that TANF needs if it’s to fulfill its promise of connecting poor families to work and opportunity.
TANF’s performance offers little to celebrate on its 19th anniversary, but Congress can change this course.