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Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Cash Assistance


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Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance provides monthly cash benefits to very low-income families based on eligibility standards set by the states. Unlike its predecessor, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), TANF is not an entitlement program, meaning eligible families are not guaranteed benefits. One of the main goals of TANF is to transition recipients to employment, so that cash benefits are no longer necessary. Recipient families must fulfill ongoing work requirements, and there is a time limit on benefits.

The federal government sets basic rules for administering TANF cash assistance, but states have responsibility for developing their programs. Income eligibility limits and benefit levels vary widely. More than one-third of the states have an income limit of less than 50 percent of the federal poverty level, while in other states, families with earnings above 100 percent of the federal poverty level may qualify for benefits. Similarly, maximum benefit levels vary from less than $200 to nearly $1,000 per month for a single-parent family of three.

Ongoing requirements for TANF recipients also differ by state. Under federal rules, a portion of a state’s caseload must meet federal work criteria, or the state will lose some of its federal funding. The 2006 TANF reauthorization tightened federal rules in this area, but states continue to have flexibility in setting work requirements for recipients. In addition, the federal government has established a lifetime benefit limit of five years for most recipients, but states can establish shorter time limits or use state funds to extend the limit.

TANF cash assistance is funded through a combination of state and federal funds. The federal TANF block grant was created with the passage of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act that eliminated AFDC, the long-standing federal cash assistance program. Cash assistance is one of many supports for low-income families financed through this grant. TANF was reauthorized in February 2006 as part of the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act.

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National Participant & Spending Data

Data Notes and Sources

Data on TANF Cash Assistance were compiled by NCCP in September 2007. Some state policy decisions may have changed since these data were collected.