The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Block Grant: A Primer on TANF Financing and Federal Requirements

Source: Gene Falk, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report for Congress, RL32748, April 2, 2013

From the summary
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant provides federal grants to the 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Indian tribes, and the territories for a wide range of benefits, services, and activities. It is best known for helping states pay for cash welfare for needy families with children, but it funds a wide array of additional activities. TANF was created in the 1996 welfare reform law (P.L. 104-193). Current law funds TANF through September 30, 2013.

TANF provides a basic block grant of $16.5 billion. It also requires states to contribute in the aggregate from their own funds at least $10.4 billion for benefits and services to needy families with children—this is known as the maintenance-of-effort (MOE) requirement. States may use TANF and MOE funds in any manner “reasonably calculated” to achieve TANF’s statutory purpose. This purpose is to increase state flexibility to achieve four goals: (1) provide assistance to needy families with children so that they can live in their own homes or the homes of relatives; (2) end dependence of needy parents on government benefits through work, job preparation, and marriage; (3) reduce out-of-wedlock pregnancies; and (4) promote the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

Though TANF is a block grant, there are some strings attached to states’ use of funds. Most TANF requirements apply to families receiving cash assistance (essentially cash welfare). Families must be financially needy and have a minor child to qualify for assistance; states determine the exact financial eligibility rules and benefit amounts. Some families have eligible children but the adults who care for their children are ineligible for aid. These are termed “childonly” families because benefits are paid only on behalf of the children…