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In Focus: TANF's Reach Declined Significantly Over Time
Chart Book

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

August 20, 2020

The TANF block grant can play an important role in stabilizing families, but it provides cash assistance to few families in need and the benefits it does provide are not sufficient to help afford the basics.

The Family Income Support (FIS) team at CBPP researches and analyzes federal and state issues related to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and helps states design their TANF programs to reach more eligible families and meet their particular needs. FIS also issues analyses detailing the harmful impact of proposals that would weaken anti-poverty programs and lifting up evidence on promising policies to expand work opportunities to struggling workers.

The TANF block grant, with which states provide direct financial assistance, child care, education and job training, and other services to low-income families, was created in 1996 to replace Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).

FIS’ research has found TANF reaches many fewer poor families than it used to, and TANF benefits have lost a fifth of their value since 1996 in most states, making it very hard for families to meet basic needs. FIS analyses have also shown that states’ spending has shifted away from core areas of basic assistance, work programs and supports, and child care to other state programs and services.