Chapter 7: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

Issues: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

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 promote and increase work among low-income families with children. TANF is most commonly associated with funding state cash welfare programs. 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. In FY2017, states reported that cash welfare represented only 23% of state and federal spending in the TANF program, and states now use TANF funds for a wide range of other activities. In addition to state block grants, TANF includes competitive grants to fund healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood initiatives.

Federal TANF law is contained in 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.

Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports

For more programmatic information, please see reports published by the Congressional Research Service.

CRS works exclusively for the United States Congress, providing policy and legal analysis to Committees and Members of both the House and Senate, regardless of party affiliation.

Legislative History

The following provides a legislative history of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program from the prior Green Book through most of the 115th Congress. For prior history, please see prior editions of the Green Book.

Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017 (P.L. 115-31)

The Consolidated Appropriations Act extended TANF through September 30, 2018 and made several other policy changes. 

What Works Clearinghouse

The Act required HHS, in consultation with the Department of Labor, to develop a database named "What Works Clearinghouse of Proven and Promising Projects to Move Welfare Recipients into Work." This database consists of the projects that used a promising or proven approach in delivering services to move TANF recipients into work. The database also includes a list of projects that used a developmental approach, and a list of projects that were ineffective in moving recipients to work. The categorization of these projects as proven, promising, ineffective, or developmental is based on rigorous evaluation of them.

Census Bureau Welfare Reform Research

The Act also required the Census Bureau, in consultation with the Secretary of HHS and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to implement a new household survey and/or enhance existing household surveys to provide for the assessment of the effects of welfare reform on the economic and child well-being of low-income families. The Census Bureau, the Secretary of HHS, and BLS are required to consider ways to improve the surveys, and data derived from the surveys, to address underreporting of means-tested benefits; increase understanding of poverty spells, long-term poverty, and intergenerational poverty; better understand the geographical dimensions of poverty; increase understanding of the effects of means-tested benefits and tax benefits on the earnings of low-income families; and improve how poverty and economic well-being are measured, including the use of consumption measures.

Welfare Research Funding

Finally, these research activities are funded through a set-aside from the basic TANF block grant, 0.33% of the total block grant amount. This provides a total for welfare-related research of $54.7 million. Of this total, at least $10 million is required to be used for research related to Census Bureau household surveys, though the Secretary of HHS would have had the authority to increase funding for those activities above $10 million.

Department of Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Act, 2019, and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2019 (P.L. 115-245)

The Continuing Appropriations Act extended TANF funding (at previous year’s levels) through December 7, 2018.


This page was prepared October 2018 for the 2018 version of the House Ways and Means Committee Green Book.