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Continued Increases in TANF Benefit Levels Are Critical to Helping Families Meet Their Needs and Thrive

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is the nation’s primary cash assistance program for families who have children and very low incomes. TANF can play a key role in ensuring that eligible families can meet their needs (such as rent, utilities, personal hygiene products, and school supplies). Although some states increased their cash benefit levels between July 2022 and July 2023 — including several states that have policies in place to automatically increase cash benefits —much more can be done to improve TANF benefit levels. States have broad flexibility under federal law to:

  • increase benefit levels;
  • establish mechanisms such as a cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) that ensure cash benefits keep pace with inflation over time;
  • provide housing supplements and other additional payments; and
  • end punitive policies like full-family sanctions and family cap policies that reduce or take away cash assistance.[2]

Low TANF cash benefit levels, which disproportionately affect the benefits available to Black families and their ability to afford basic needs like housing, are rooted in a long history of racist ideas and policies.[3] TANF cash benefit levels tend to be lower in states where Black residents make up a greater share of the population, when controlling for other factors, research finds.[4] In addition, TANF continues to be inaccessible to most recently arrived immigrants, many of whom are people of color.

Twenty-One States and D.C. Raised Benefit Levels Between July 2022 and July 2023

This paper, an annual update on state TANF benefit levels, covers benefit changes that took effect between July 1, 2022, and July 1, 2023. During this timeframe, 21 states and D.C. increased benefit levels. (See Table 1.) Twelve of these increases represent recurring adjustments; that is, these states have policies in place to ensure that their TANF benefit levels periodically increase.

The benefit level (in nominal dollars) in the median state is now $549, an increase from last year’s median state benefit level of $492. (See Appendix Table 1.) Despite recent increases, cash benefits are at or below 60 percent of the poverty line in every state and below 20 percent in 17, mostly Southern, states. (See Figure 1.) The benefit levels cited reflect the maximum monthly benefit for a family of one parent and two children with no other income as of July 1, 2023. However, families often do not receive the maximum TANF benefit; therefore, the cash benefits cited may exceed what many families receive. Benefit levels in seven states (California, Connecticut, Kansas, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia) vary by geographic region within the state. (For more details on the benefit levels reported, see the footnotes in Appendix Table 1.)

In 2023, cash benefits in only 11 states had a real (inflation-adjusted) value that was the same as or higher than in 1996. At the other end, ten states had the same nominal cash benefits level in 2023 as in 1996, meaning that benefits fell by 46 percent in inflation-adjusted terms. Four states — Arizona, Hawai’i, Idaho, and Oklahoma — cut cash benefits without later restoring them, so these benefits are below their 1996 levels even without adjusting for inflation. In the remaining 26 states and D.C., cash benefit increases were not sufficient to keep pace with inflation, leading to an average value loss of 30 percent. (See Appendix Table 1.)

TABLE 1
States That Raised TANF Cash Benefits Between July 2022 and July 2023
Monthly maximum benefit for a single-parent family of three
StateJuly 2023 BenefitIncrease Since 
July 2022
Percent ChangeRecurring Adjustment?
California a$1,130$20522%X
Connecticut$833$628%X
District of Columbia$696$315%X
Illinois$576$275%X
Indiana$320$3211% 
Kentucky$524$262100% 
Maine$665$371%X
Maryland$792$659% 
Massachusetts$783$7110% 
Minnesota$686$457%X
Montana b$725$13723% 
Nebraska c$552$6714%X
New Hampshire$1,243$928%X
New Mexico$549$10223% 
North Dakota$872$38679% 
Ohio$589$479%X
South Carolina$323$1820%X
South Dakota$701$335% 
Texas$327$155%X
Utah$662$16433% 
Vermont$856$456% 
Wyoming$838$577%X

TANF = Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

a California’s new benefit level resulted from a combination of its automatic COLA, a permanent 11 percent increase, and a temporary 10 percent increase to benefit levels. Both increases were enacted through legislation in 2023.

b In 2023, Montana changed the way its benefit is calculated, which resulted in its benefit increase of $137. Montana now ties its benefits to 35 of the current year federal poverty level. Previous eligibility was calculated based on the 2011 federal poverty level.

c Nebraska ties its benefit to standard of need, which is tied to the Consumer Price Index and adjusted biannually.
Source: CBPP-compiled 2023 state benefit levels

Between July 1, 2022, and July 1, 2023, ten states took specific legislative or administrative actions to increase their grant levels. For example:

  • Kentucky took administrative action that doubled its benefit level from $262 to $524, its first increase since TANF’s creation in 1996.
  • Montana increased its benefit from $588 to $725, a $137 increase from 2022 and its largest increase to date.
  • Indiana increased its benefit level from $288 to $320, a $32 increase and its first increase since TANF’s creation.
  • North Dakota increased its benefit level from $486 to $872, a $386 increase and its largest increase to date.

Although cash benefits automatically increased in 12 states because of a cost-of-living adjustment already in place, the amount of the COLA varied substantially, from as low as $15 in Texas to as high as $92 in New Hampshire. This reflects variation in cash benefit levels as well as different mechanisms for automatically increasing benefits.[5]

State TANF Benefit Decisions Have Disparate Impacts on Rent Affordability, Especially for Communities of Color

TANF agencies and state legislatures can also increase benefit levels by starting or strengthening housing supplements for TANF recipients. Federal standards define rent (including utilities) as affordable when it takes up no more than 30 percent of a household’s income. For families whose only source of income is TANF, Fair Market Rents (FMRs) are well over 30 percent of the maximum monthly TANF benefit in every state. (See Appendix Table 3). This poses a significant concern for Black and Latine families with low incomes, who are especially vulnerable to housing insecurity and eviction. Yet only 1 in 4 eligible families receive federal housing assistance due to lack of funding.[6]

According to a study using 2022 census data, 56 percent of Black renters and 53 percent of Latine renters spend more than 30 percent of their monthly income on rent and utilities compared to 44 percent of white renters. In addition, about one-third of Black renters spend more than half of their monthly income on rent and utilities compared to 24 percent of white renters.[7] Studies show that Black mothers with young children are more likely than any other group to face eviction.[8]

Housing supplements remain an effective way to help families, though no TANF programs added new or increased existing supplements between July 2022 and July 2023. A few states provide a housing supplement in addition to the base TANF cash benefit for families who do not receive rental assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development or another program. Six states provide such supplements, but in three states — Massachusetts, North Dakota, and Vermont — the supplements are very low, less than $50. The other three states — Hawai’i, Maine, and Minnesota — provide larger supplements that increase a family’s ability to pay for housing without rental assistance. (See Appendix Table 3 for more information).

States Have More Work to Do to Improve TANF and Help Families Thrive

In 2023, many states took steps to get more benefits to families, but a few states implemented restrictions or failed to act to increase access to benefits. For example, six states have yet to remove family cap policies that deny additional cash benefits to families who have children after their initial TANF eligibility is determined: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Policy measures such as family caps attempt to control people’s reproductive decisions and their access to resources, in direct opposition to the goals of reducing poverty and supporting families’ autonomy and well-being.[9] Further, policymakers in Arkansas significantly curtailed families’ access to TANF by reducing the time limit for households with work-eligible adults from 24 months to 12 months.[10]

Only 11 states have benefits that have kept up with inflation since 1996, and several of those are only due to recent increases and very low benefit levels. States can do more to make sure families can access TANF and have the assistance they need to meet basic needs and thrive.

Appendix

APPENDIX TABLE 1
Monthly Maximum TANF Benefit Levels*
(Single-parent family of three)
StateJuly 1996July 2000July 2005July 2010July 2020July 2021July 2022July 20231996-2023 Change, Adjusted for Inflation
Alabama$164$164$215$215$215$215$215$215-29%
Alaska923923923923923923923923-46%
Arizona347347347278278278278278-57%
Arkansas204204204204204204204204-46%
California a59662672369487887892511303%
Colorado356356356462508508559559-15%
Connecticut b636636636674698709771833-29%
Delaware338338338416338338338338-46%
District of Columbia415379379428658658665696-9%
Florida303303303303303303303303-46%
Georgia280280280280280280280280-46%
Hawai’i c712570570610610610610610-54%
Idaho317293309309309309309309-47%
Illinois377377396432533543549576-17%
Indiana288288288288288288288320-40%
Iowa426426426426426426426426-46%
Kansas d429429429429429429429429-46%
Kentucky2622622622622622622625248%
Louisiana e19019024024024024048448438%
Maine f418461485485610620628665-14%
Maryland37341748257472772772779215%
Massachusetts525525578578593712712783-19%
Michigan459459459492492492492492-42%
Minnesota532532532532632632641686-30%
Mississippi12017017017017026026026017%
Missouri292292292292292292292292-46%
Montana438469405504588588588725-10%
Nebraska h364364364364468485485552-18%
Nevada348348348383386386386386-40%
New Hampshire550575625675108610981151124322%
New Jersey424424424424559559559559-29%
New Mexico389439389447447447447549-24%
New York j577577691753789789789789-26%
North Carolina272272272272272272272272-46%
North Dakota k43145747747748648648687210%
Ohio l341373373434505512542589-6%
Oklahoma307292292292292292292292-48%
Oregon460460460485506506506506-40%
Pennsylvania m403403403403403403403403-46%
Rhode Island554554554554554721721721-29%
South Carolina n2002042052702993053233885%
South Dakota430430501555615630668701-12%
Tennessee o18518518518527738738738713%
Texas p188201223260303308312327-6%
Utah416451474498498498498662-14%
Vermont q597622640640699699811856-22%
Virginia r354354389389508559587508-22%
Washington546546546562569654654654-35%
West Virginia25332834034034054254254216%
Wisconsin s517673673673653653653653-32%
Wyoming t36034034056171272678183817%
Median state u377379389429492498492549-21%

*Benefit levels are listed in nominal dollars.

Note: TANF = Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

a California has different benefit levels based on geographic location (Region 1 or Region 2) and whether families are exempted from work requirements. The benefit levels reported here are for families in Region 1 (which includes the most populous counties) who are non-exempt.

b Connecticut has different benefit levels based on geographic location (Regions A, B, and C). The benefit listed here is for Region A, which covers the state’s highest-cost area. The state has a COLA based on the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) COLA.

c Hawai’i has a smaller benefit for families who must participate in work activities, and a higher benefit for families who are exempt. Benefits for a family of three are $610 and $763, respectively.

d Kansas has different benefit levels based on geographic location. The benefit levels reported here apply to most of the state.

e Louisiana has a different benefit structure for its TANF program for children not living with a parent, called the Kinship Care Subsidy Program. The benefit is $222 to $450 per child.

f Maine indexed its benefit levels to the Social Security and SSI COLA. Families whose housing costs exceed 50 percent of their countable income are eligible for a housing supplement of up to $300 per month.

h Nebraska’s benefit level is tied to 55 percent of the state’s standard of need, which is adjusted biannually using the CPI-U.

i New Hampshire’s TANF benefit levels are tied to 60 percent of the federal poverty line and are adjusted each year.

j New York has different benefit levels based on geographic location. The benefit listed here is for New York City. New York State’s benefit has several components, including a statewide monthly basic allowance (for recurring needs), a statewide home energy allowance, a statewide supplemental home energy allowance, and a county-specific rental allowance, which varies from $259 to $447. The rental allowance in New York City is $400.

k North Dakota’s benefit of $486 includes a flat $50 per month housing supplement for families who are solely responsible for their shelter costs.

l Ohio raises its TANF benefit levels each January based on the Social Security and SSI COLA.

APPENDIX TABLE 2
TANF Benefit Levels as Percentage of Federal Poverty Level
State19962023Rank (2023)
Alabama15.2%10.4%50
Alaska68.3%35.6%10
Arizona32.1%13.4%47
Arkansas18.9%9.8%51
California55.1%54.5%2
Colorado32.9%27.0%22
Connecticut58.8%40.2%6
Delaware31.2%16.3%39
District of Columbia38.4%33.6%14
Florida28.0%14.6%43
Georgia25.9%13.5%46
Hawai’i57.2%25.6%27
Idaho29.3%14.9%42
Illinois34.9%27.8%21
Indiana23.1%15.4%41
Iowa39.4%20.6%34
Kansas39.7%20.7%33
Kentucky24.2%25.3%28
Louisiana17.6%23.4%32
Maine38.6%32.1%16
Maryland34.5%38.2%7
Massachusetts48.5%37.8%9
Michigan42.4%23.7%31
Minnesota49.2%33.1%15
Mississippi11.1%12.6%49
Missouri27.0%14.1%44
Montana40.5%35.0%11
Nebraska33.7%26.6%24
Nevada32.2%18.6%38
New Hampshire50.8%60.0%1
New Jersey39.2%27.0%22
New Mexico36.0%26.5%25
New York53.3%38.1%8
North Carolina25.1%13.1%48
North Dakota39.8%42.1%3
Ohio31.5%28.4%20
Oklahoma28.4%14.1%44
Oregon42.5%24.4%30
Pennsylvania37.3%19.5%35
Rhode Island51.2%34.8%12
South Carolina18.5%18.7%36
South Dakota39.8%33.8%13
Tennessee17.1%18.7%37
Texas17.4%15.8%40
Utah38.5%32.0%17
Vermont55.2%41.3%4
Virginia32.7%24.5%29
Washington50.5%31.6%18
West Virginia23.4%26.2%26
Wisconsin47.8%31.5%19
Wyoming33.3%40.5%5
Median state34.9%26.2%--

Note: TANF = Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Source: Calculated from figures in Appendix Table 1 and Health and Human Services poverty guidelines for a single-parent family of three for 1996 (https://aspe.hhs.gov/1996-hhs-poverty-guidelines) and 2023 (https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2023/01/19/2023-00885/annual-update-of-the-hhs-poverty-guidelines.)

 
APPENDIX TABLE 3
Rent Affordable to Family With Maximum TANF Benefit Compared to Fair Market Rent for Two-Bedroom Apartment
StateRent Affordable to TANF Family*Fair Market Rent (FMR)**Rent Affordable to TANF Family as Share of FMRHousing Supplement?
Alabama$65$9437% 
Alaska$277$1,36820% 
Arizona$83$1,5565% 
Arkansas$61$8467% 
California (Los Angeles Co.)$339$2,19715.4% 
Colorado$168$1,67110% 
Connecticut (City of Stamford)$250$2,56310% 
Delaware$101$1,3577% 
District of Columbia$209$1,83811% 
Florida$91$1,5916% 
Georgia$84$1,2877% 
Hawai’i1$683$2,17531%X
Idaho$93$1,1208% 
Illinois$173$1,27914% 
Indiana$96$98810% 
Iowa$128$94314% 
Kansas$129$97313% 
Kentucky$157$93117% 
Louisiana$145$1,00814% 
Maine2$500$1,28639%X
Maryland$238$1,61615% 
Massachusetts3$275$2,16513%X
Michigan$148$1,12613% 
Minnesota4$316$1,25425%X
Mississippi$78$8959% 
Missouri$88$9649% 
Montana$218$1,00222% 
Nebraska$166$98417% 
Nevada$116$1,4558% 
New Hampshire$373$1,55324% 
New Jersey$168$1,74210% 
New Mexico$165$1,03416% 
New York (New York City)$237$2,45110% 
North Carolina$82$1,1207% 
North Dakota5$312$92534%X
Ohio$177$99318% 
Oklahoma$88$9369% 
Oregon$152$1,54510% 
Pennsylvania (Philadelphia Co.)$121$1,4708% 
Rhode Island$216$1,44415% 
South Carolina$116$1,11710% 
South Dakota$210$90923% 
Tennessee$116$1,08011% 
Texas$98$1,3038% 
Utah$199$1,29715% 
Vermont (Rutland Co.)6$302$1,08828%X
Virginia (Fairfax Co.)$152$1,8388% 
Washington$196$1,88910% 
West Virginia$163$86519% 
Wisconsin$196$1,05619% 
Wyoming$251$93327% 
Median state$165$1,33312% 

Note: TANF = Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; Fair Market Rent = U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s estimate of rent and utility costs for modest housing unit in local area. All dollar figures are monthly amounts.

*Figures shown represent 30 percent of the maximum TANF benefit unless the state has a housing supplement, in which case 100 percent of the maximum available housing supplement plus 30 percent of the base grant is considered affordable rent. Federal standards define rent (including utilities) as affordable when it takes up no more than 30 percent of a household’s income and hypothetical families are assumed to have TANF as their sole source of income. Though housing supplements are given to families as cash, it is reasonable to assume that families spend it on rent.

**Unless otherwise noted, the FMR presented is a weighted statewide average based on HUD FMRs for various sub-regions in the state. In states where maximum benefit levels listed in Appendix Table 1 do not apply to the majority of the state, the FMR for the most populous county or city (in Connecticut and New York) in the region whose benefit is reported in Appendix Table 1 is used.

These figures do not represent the housing burden on actual TANF families, which depends on the amount of TANF cash assistance, their housing costs, and the amount of any other income or assistance.

1 Hawai’i provides a housing supplement of up to $500 per month. Without this supplement, the affordable rent for a family with the maximum TANF benefit ($610) would cover 9 percent of FMR.

2 Maine provides a housing supplement of up to $300 per month. Without this supplement, the affordable rent for a family with the maximum TANF benefit ($620) would cover 17 percent of FMR.

3 Massachusetts provides a flat $40 per month housing supplement. Without this supplement, the affordable rent for a family with the maximum TANF benefit ($712) would cover 11 percent of FMR.

4 Minnesota provides a flat $110 per month housing supplement. Without this supplement, the affordable rent for a family with the maximum TANF benefit ($532) would cover 17 percent of FMR. Legislation was passed in 2023 to adjust the supplement for inflation. The first increase will occur on Oct 1, 2024, and will be based off the CPI-U for 2023.

5 North Dakota provides a flat $50 per month housing supplement. Without this supplement, the affordable rent for a family with the base grant ($436; not shown in Appendix Table 1) would cover 15 percent of FMR.

6 Vermont provides a housing supplement of up to $45 per month. Without this supplement, the affordable rent for a family with the base grant ($699) would cover 23 percent of FMR. Calculations are for families living outside of Chittenden County.

Source: 2023 FMR data from National Low Income Housing Coalition, op. cit. TANF benefit levels for single-parent families of three were compiled by CBPP from various state sources and are current as of July 1, 2023.

End Notes

[1] Tonanziht Aguas was an intern with CBPP from September 2023 through May 2024.

[2] Urvi Patel and Aditi Shrivastava, “Reproductive Justice and TANF: Repealing ‘Family Cap’ Policies Promotes Economic Justice and Family Autonomy,” CBPP, December 19, 2023, https://www.cbpp.org/blog/reproductive-justice-and-tanf-repealing-family-cap-policies-promotes-economic-justice-and.

[3] Ife Floyd et al., “TANF Policies Reflect Racist Legacy of Cash Assistance,” CBPP, August 4, 2021, https://www.cbpp.org/research/income-security/tanf-policies-reflect-racist-legacy-of-cash-assistance.

[4]Heather Hahn et al., “Why Does Cash Welfare Depend on Where You Live?” Urban Institute, June 5, 2017, https://www.urban.org/research/publication/why-does-cash-welfare-depend-where-you-live.

[5]States take different approaches to adjusting their benefits based on changes in living costs. One approach is to index TANF benefit levels directly to changes in living costs due to inflation. Other states have indexed their TANF benefits by tying them to a separate standard that is adjusted for inflation. When setting a COLA by tying benefits to a standard of need or to a share of the federal poverty guidelines, it is critical to make sure that the level set is not too low, to ensure that benefits keep pace with inflation and provide enough cash for families to afford basic needs.

[6] CBPP, “Families With Children and Non-Elderly Adults Without Children Have the Greatest Unmet Need for Rental Assistance,” https://www.cbpp.org/research/housing/three-out-of-four-low-income-at-risk-renters-do-not-receive-federal-rental-assistance.

[7] National Low Income Housing Coalition, “The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes,” March 2024, https://nlihc.org/sites/default/files/gap/2024/Gap-Report_2024.pdf.

[8] Nick Graetz et al., “A comprehensive demographic profile of the US evicted population,” The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), October 2, 2023, https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2305860120.

[9] Patel and Shrivastava, op. cit. Tennessee enacted a removal of its family cap in the 2024 legislative session. SB 2078, https://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/default.aspx?BillNumber=SB2078&ga=113.

[10] Arkansas passed HB1401 in the 2023 legislative session. https://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/Bills/Detail?id=HB1401&ddBienniumSession=2023%2F2023R. While the TANF law limits federally funded benefits to 60 months, states can extend benefits for 20 percent of cases or use state TANF funds beyond 60 months. Liz Schott, Ife Floyd, and LaDonna Pavetti, Ph.D., ”Cash Assistance Should Promote Equity,” CBPP, August 4, 2021, https://www.cbpp.org/research/income-security/cash-assistance-should-promote-equity.