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TANF Benefits Small and Shrinking

Benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which are set by the states, fall far short of providing for families’ basic needs, says a report we issued yesterday.

In every state, benefit levels for a family of three are less than half the poverty line, and in most states, they’re below 30 percent of the poverty line (see map). The poverty line for a family of three is $1,526 per month.


Many families receiving TANF cash assistance also qualify for food stamp (now renamed SNAP) benefits, but the combined value of these benefits still leaves a family of three below the poverty line in every state.

Since Congress created TANF in the 1996 welfare reform law, TANF benefits have failed to keep pace with inflation in all but three states. In 30 states, benefits have fallen by 20 percent or more, after adjusting for inflation.