Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) - Early Childhood Education - Pedagogy

Early Childhood Education

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)


The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program is a federal block grant that provides financial assistance and work opportunities to families in need by allowing states the freedom and flexibility to determine how best to meet citizens’ needs. Enacted in 1996 as part of welfare reform, TANF funding may be used to provide cash benefits to low-income families, funding for child care activities, and support for other work-related activities. With over 3.6 million children receiving some type of TANF support each month during FY 2004, it is clear that this program has a significant impact on a large number of children in the United States (Administration for Children and Families, 2005).

TANF was established through the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996. In 1992, presidential candidate Bill Clinton gave a campaign speech proclaiming the need for drastic changes in welfare policy, asserting that “no one who works full-time and has children at home should be poor anymore. No one who can work should be able to stay on welfare forever” (Danziger, 1999, p. 1). After President Clinton took office, he appointed an interagency task force to study possible solutions to this problem, and develop legislation to reform welfare policy. Although there was much controversy surrounding the bill, in August of 1996, Congress passed PRWORA and President Clinton signed the act into law (Danziger, 1999).

Welfare reform under PRWORA represents a dramatic change in the way cash assistance and support services are delivered to children and families. The TANF block grant, administered by the Office of Family Assistance, replaces the previous Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (JOBS), and Emergency Assistance (EA) programs (Administration for Children and Families, n.d.a). The general mission of TANF is to move welfare recipients to work and self-sufficiency, and to ensure that welfare receipt is short-term and not “a way of life.” The four stated purposes of TANF are as follows:

• to assist needy families so that children can be cared for in their homes;

• to reduce dependency [upon government] of needy families by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage;

• to prevent out-of-wedlock pregnancies;

• to encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

The legislation encourages states to be flexible, innovative, and creative in the ways in which they provide supports to working families. However, the legislation also establishes some basic requirements for the program. For instance, TANF recipients must begin working as soon as they are job-ready, or no more than two years after they began receiving cash assistance. Work activities under TANF are broadly defined, and include education or training programs, subsidized or unsubsidized employment, community services, and job search. Finally, adults who are eligible for cash benefits may only receive them for up to 60 months (and often less, at each state’s discretion).

States received $17 billion in fiscal year 2004 for activities related to the four purposes of the block grant. States can use TANF to support low-income families by providing monthly cash benefits, child care subsidies, transportation assistance, tax credits, and assistance related to work activities. These activities directly affect children whose families are eligible for TANF support. Primarily, children benefit from the monthly cash benefits their families receive, and also from the child care subsidies that allow children to attend child care activities while their parents work or attend education or training programs. TANF dollars can be used directly for child care, or can be transferred to states’ Child Care and Development Funds (CCDF) for child care subsidies (Administration for Children and Families, n.d.b). TANF funding can also be transferred to the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) and used for activities related to social services for adults and children, including services related to preventing or remedying abuse or neglect of children. Much of the funding allocated under SSBG is spent on protective services for children, foster care services, and services for disabled children. SSBG funding is also used for child care subsidies and other child care activities (Administration for Children and Families, n.d.c).

As TANF represents a complete overhaul of the welfare system of the past few decades, numerous studies have been conducted measuring the various effects of the program. In general, results from these studies of TANF are mixed. While welfare reform has resulted in decreased caseloads and increased employment of single mothers (largely due to the 60-month time limit for benefits), not all families who get off of TANF experience an improved financial situation once they begin working (Fremstad, 2004; Haskins et al., 2001). Currently, the federal government is in the process of working on TANF reauthorization, and many research and advocacy organizations have suggested modifications to the current policy to make TANF more effective for the children and families it affects. These modifications include changes to specific aspects of the law, such as the number of weekly work hours required for parents with children, programs and policies related to adolescents and especially to teen parents, and policies related to child care and the choices parents face when returning to work (Levin-Epstein, 2002).

Further Readings: Administration for Children and Families (2005). Caseload data: TANF: Total number of child recipients FY 2004. Available online at http://www.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/ofa/caseload/2004/children04tanf.htm. Administration for Children and Families (n.d.a.) Fact sheets: Office of family assistance. Available online athttp://www.acf.hhs.gov/opa/fact_sheets/tanf_factsheet.html. Administration for Children and Families (n.d.b); Fact sheets: Welfare. Available online at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/news/facts/tanf.html; Administration for Children and Families (n.d.c). SSBG 2003. Available online at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ocs/ssbg/annrpt/2003/chapter2.html; Danziger, S. H. (1999). Introduction: What are the early lessons? In Danziger, S. H., ed., Economic conditions and welfare reform; Kalamazoo, MI: W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, pp. 1-14; Haskins, R., I. V. Sawhill, and R. K. Weaver (2001). Welfare reform: An overview of effects to date. Available online at http://www.brook.edu/es/research/projects/wrb/publications/pb/pb01.htm; Levin-Epstein, J. (2002). Testimony of Jodie Levin- Epstein, Senior Policy Analyst, Center for Law and Social Policy. Available online at http://www.clasp.org/publications/Levin-Epstein_4-11-02_testimony.pdf.

Abby Copeman