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Policy Basics

The federal government provides a fixed TANF block grant to states, which use those funds to operate their own programs.(To receive federal funds, states must also spend some of their own dollars on programs for needy families.)

State TANF programs are supposed to provide direct financial assistance to families as the parents prepare for and find work that will enable them to move off of assistance.

Because states have broad flexibility over their use of federal TANF funds, TANF programs vary widely from state to state in how effectively they assist needy families, but in every state, TANF reaches fewer poor families with children than when the program began. FIS makes recommendations on how to improve state programs by increasing benefit levels, reaching more eligible families, and focusing spending on core areas like basic assistance, work and work supports, and child care.