Policy Analysis: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Policy Analysis: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)


The goal of this paper is to perform a policy analysis of the 1996 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) under the Personal Responsibility and Employment Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) and its impact on families with children. TANF is the main safety net and cash assistance program available to provide aid for children in poverty. For perhaps the first occasion since it was created the 1935 Social Security Act, the implementation of TANF has assumed a fundamental shift in federal welfare policy (Fusaro 2019). The policy plan for eliminating child poverty by relying on jobs and marriage has failed to help households gain financial self-sufficiency and upward economic prosperity. The paper would concentrate on the history of TANF and how kids living in poverty have been affected It will also examine the efficacy of TANF in reaching its stated policy goals.


There is a substantial number of people living in poverty in the United States. In accordance with U.S. data, The Census Bureau (2011) estimates that 15.7 million children live on or below the poverty line, representing 21.6% of all children. Poverty can impact many aspects of a child’s life, including access to proper needs and resources, safety, health, and adult quality of life (Duncan, Ziol-Guest, & Kalil 2010). Not only does it affect an individual during their childhood when facing poverty at a vulnerable age, but it can also lead to adverse consequences for those children as they move through life. Childhood poverty impacts some groups and family units disproportionately. Black and Hispanic children have considerably greater rates of poverty than the national average, with 38.2% of Black children and 32.3% of Hispanic children living in poverty (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011). It is far above the national average of 21.6% all children and more than double the more level for white children, 17.0% of whom live in poverty (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011). TANF’s policy analysis will include an in-depth understanding of the program’s results for vulnerable children and families.

Childhood poverty in the United States is a major and severe problem. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is the current federal welfare policy in place to deal with this problem. TANF was established as Title 1 of the Personal Responsibility and the work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA). TANF was established as a response to the growing number of children living in poverty and needing government assistance under the preceding welfare system. TANF has been and appears to be one of the main security net and cash assistance programs available in the country to support low-income families with young children. In 1996, TANF replaced the federal welfare aid formerly provided under Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and related programs with the TANF block grant (Lawrence 2013). AFDC was an uncapped federal incentive system whereby states earned more federal money when they allocated more on cash assistance and less when they caseloads decreased (Lawrence 2013). In comparison, TANF jurisdictions were granted a specified block grant from which they can spend on a broad variety of programs to forward either of the four federal objectives.

TANF also has a provision for “maintenance of energy” (MOE) that states will continue to spend at least 75% of the total they invested on services supporting needy families previous to the welfare reform. States will spend money on a variety of programs and facilities to poor families with children, independent of whether households seek financial assistance. TANF was designed to minimize the number of children in need of government benefits as well as to receive them. The objectives of TANF were too:

(1)Provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives; (2) end the dependence of needy parents on government(“TANF State Plan”) benefit by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage; (3) prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the instance of these pregnancies’(Dobelstein, 2009) and (4) encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families. (PRWORA, 1996, Sec. 401).


Block grants have been given to states to create their own programs. The sum of the award is based on the number of people in each state who had previously received assistance from AFDC. It was anticipated that the amount of revenue would be reduced by 10 percent each year with the attempt to gradually wean off people on welfare (PRWORA, 1996).

TANF’s establishment has significantly changed U.S. welfare policy. Welfare was no longer an entitlement program like it was under AFDC, offering support to everyone who eligible as long as they qualified. TANF is time-limited; families in their entire life only can receive welfare for a maximum of 60 months, and states have the choice of further minimizing that time-limit. States were also offered the option of imposing a limit on the number of children qualified for assistance per household. Through TANF, people are required for a minimum number of hours per week to operate or engage in job-related activities in order to stay eligible for the service. Throughout 1997, people on welfare were originally contracted to work 20 hours a week, rising to 30 hours by 2000. States must fulfill their work quotas with a certain percentage of their recipients or face large fines and funding cuts (PRWORD, 1996).

The 2005 Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) re-authorized TANF. The DRA expanded the types of families required to achieve the work quotas, such as previously exempt families, such as parents who do not receive cash aid on their own, only for their children (Reed & Karpilow, 2010). This doubled the number of total TANF participant states to be included when determining their percentages of families meeting the work requirements (Reed & Karp, 2010).

The critique

The policy’s overall value principle is that kids should not live in poverty. The clear quality principles driving the policy goals are the relevance of infant well-being for education and marriage (PRWORA, 1996). In 1994, only 7.9% of female participants either were part-time or full-time employees and many were without father cooperation; the youngest child’s father was not present in 89% of families (U. S. Congress, 1996). The policy clearly indicates that single mothers with low incomes have to work to support their families (Falk, 2013). This places first the value of mothers as economic suppliers for their families over their worth to their kids as care providers (Seccombe, 2011).

TANF is based on the conceptual stance that jobs and marriage will put an end to the need for public assistance for parents (Katz, 2012). This policy is based on the theory that if parents are married and employed, their finances will be entirely sufficient lift themselves and their families out of poverty, and they will no longer have to rely heavily on federal government assistance programs (Falk, 2013). The current welfare plan is based on the notion that the necessary first step is for parents to get a career, even if it is a low-earning or part-time job, in order to eventually gain a decent living and climb the economic ladder (Pavetti & Acs 2009). The concept was that recipients could advance to better pay positions within a 5-year time limit, enabling them to earn a satisfactory salary (Hildebrandt & Stevens, 2009). TANF is founded on the idea that most participants can get and retain work, and that stable employment can lead to financial self-sufficiency for beneficiaries (Corcoran, Danziger, Kalil, & Seefeldt, 2000).

This plan is targeted at unmarried mothers, especially minority groups and low-employment or unemployed mothers (Dave, Corman, & Reichman, 2012). The policy also exempts some previously permitted populations to receive benefits. Participants convicted of a crime related to drugs do not qualify for TANF benefits, although states may choose to amend or reject this statute (PRWORA, 1996). States also have the opportunity of punishing drug test recipients for drug use (Falk, 2013).


Subsequently, childhood poverty dropped from 21% of all children living in poverty throughout the United States to 16% from 2000 during the first 5 years of the implementation of TANF (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2010). The number of families with an unemployed person receiving cash aid went from 3.8 million in 1994 to less than one million in 2001, there was a rapid decrease in families receiving aid. Even though child poverty levels initially dropped after PRWORA’s enactment, the child poverty rate increased steadily in 2002, reaching its peak of 22 percent in 2010, exceeding the pre-TANF rate of 20.8 percent in 2005 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). The number of adults residing beneath the level of poverty has expanded from 11.4% in 1995 to 13.7% in 2012 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012).

One of TANF’s more notable long-term effects is that it has decreased the number of discretionary cash aid qualifying households (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2010). There were a total of 4.8 million households a month receiving cash aid in 1995, the year before PRWORA was enacted (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2010). The figure fell dramatically in 2008 to an estimate of 1.7 million households a month receiving aid (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2010). This was not, though, attributed to an improvement in the economic self-sufficiency of the nation, As demonstrated by a significant growth in the number of qualifying households who do not receive financial assistance. By 2005, 10 years after TANF was implemented, the number of households who were eligible for federal income support, but did not receive benefits increased dramatically to about 60 percent of all qualified families equal to 3.1 million (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2010).

TANF follows a working-first strategy, which relies on bringing beneficiaries into the workplace by placing work requirements on recipients (Dave, Richmond, Corman, & Das, 2011). One of the unexpected consequences is that education and training are de-emphasized and higher education and job training programs are restricted for recipients (Dave, Reichmn, Corman, & Das, 2011). Higher education and training rates will result in higher paying jobs that welfare recipients need to gain self-sufficiency (Labor Statistics Bureau, 2013). Under TANF rules, in order to receive benefits, juvenile mothers are ordered to attend high school or training and if they are full-time students, they are excluded from time limits or work requirements. This program was proven to lower teenage mothers ‘ drop-out levels by 15 percent in high school (Dave et al., 2012).

In compliance with the Code of Ethics National Association of Social Workers (NASW 2008), the key objectives of the social work profession are to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with special attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed and living in poverty. Evaluation of TANF is critical for the social work field because it is targeted at people living in poverty, who are disadvantaged communities, and children who are a particularly vulnerable population. Social workers have moral obligations to the wider society, including fostering services, participating in, influencing social policies, and pushing for policy changes to promote better circumstances (NASW, 2008).


The introduction of the 1996 welfare reform legislation culminated in wide-ranging reforms to the U.S. federal money safety net system for families with children, exchanging AFDC with TANF. The key elements of that legislation contained work requirements, lifetime limits on the period of availability of benefits, and monetary penalties for failing to comply with labor or other laws. TANF seemed to work fairly well in the immediate aftermath of the welfare reform. This trend of prosperity was strengthened by the extension of wage benefits through the EITC to low-income families with children as well as the thriving labor market of the late 1990s, which in many years presented the most ideal conditions for low-skilled workers.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) initiative was created to support the self-sufficiency of needy families. States obtain block grants to build and run programs that fulfill one of the TANF’s goals. The four goals of the TANF system are: (1) to provide support to needy families in order to take care of children in their own households or family homes (2) Reduce the dependency of poor parents by encouraging employment training, jobs, and marriage (3) Prevention and elimination of out-of-wedlock births (4) Encourage the development and retention of two-parent families(Ziliak, 2015). TANF can be significantly improved whilst retaining its strong emphasis on jobs (Ziliak, 2015).


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