Vice President for Family Income Support Policy
As we approach the 20th anniversary of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant on August 22, this blog series will outline key facts about the program.
TANF’s combination of nearly unfettered state flexibility, fixed block grant funding, narrowly defined work requirements, and time limits provides a safety net to very few families in need, and it doesn’t prepare parents for today’s labor market. Federal policymakers can address these problems through policy changes in three broad areas.
1. Provide an effective safety net to poor families with children. An effective safety net helps families meet their basic needs when they can’t work and avoid a downward spiral when they face hard times. To ensure that TANF provides an effective safety net for such families, policymakers should:
2. Create effective work programs. Most states do little to help prepare TANF recipients for work. To ensure that TANF effectively connects parents to job opportunities that can help them escape poverty, policymakers should:
3. Provide adequate resources for safety net and work programs. States by and large haven’t used their flexibility under TANF to create a strong safety net or run effective work programs. To ensure that states devote sufficient resources to these areas, policymakers should:
We should no longer accept a situation in which about 2 million children live in deep poverty — with incomes below half of the poverty line — largely due to TANF’s failure to help the neediest families. TANF’s performance doesn’t offer much to celebrate on its 20th anniversary, but policymakers can change this course.