Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Introduction and Overview


The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant provides grants to states, Indian tribes, and territories for a wide range of benefits, services, and activities that address economic disadvantage. TANF is best known for funding state cash welfare programs for low-income families with children.  It was created in the 1996 welfare reform law (The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, P.L. 104-193), replacing the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) cash welfare program and several related programs.  However, in FY2013, states reported that cash welfare represented only 28% of state and federal spending in the TANF program.  TANF funds a wide range of activities that seek to both ameliorate the effects and address the root causes of child poverty.  In addition to state block grants, TANF includes competitive grants to fund healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood initiatives.

Federal TANF law is Title IV-A of the Social Security Act.  At the federal level, TANF is administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  However, benefits and services are provided by the states, territories, and tribes, which have broad flexibility in how to administer their programs.  TANF programs operate in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands.  American Samoa is eligible to operate a TANF program, but has not opted to do so.

Chapter Overview

This chapter of the Green Book includes Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports detailing:

  • The financing and federal rules regarding the TANF block grant;
  • The characteristics of families and recipients receiving TANF cash assistance;
  • TANF cash assistance financial eligibility thresholds and benefit amounts; and
  • TANF work participation requirements and standards.

Tables and Figures included in those CRS reports are identified in a following section.  In addition, a section of Additional Tables and Figures includes tables on TANF expenditures and unspent grant funds.  The chapter concludes with a Legislative History of TANF and Links to Additional Resources, which include a set of links to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) web sites and research organizations for additional information about TANF.

 This page was prepared September 15, 2014 for the 2014 version of the House Ways and Means Committee Green Book.