A State-by-State Look at TANF

November 19, 2014 at 4:23 pm

This interactive map provides a wealth of information on state Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs, which — as CBPP analyses have documented — have weakened significantly as a safety net since TANF’s creation in the 1996 welfare law.

Not only does TANF reach many fewer needy families than it used to, but TANF benefits have lost a fifth of their value since 1996 in most states and leave families far below the poverty line, making it extremely difficult for them to meet basic needs.

The map gives state-specific data on these issues (click on one of the three gray boxes at the top to choose which version of the map to display) and links to fact sheets with more details on each state’s caseload and spending.

State Welfare Benefits Continue Shrinking

October 31, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash benefits for the nation’s poorest families with children fell again in purchasing power in 2014 and are now at least 20 percent below their inflation-adjusted 1996 levels in 38 states, our new report explains.  As the country moves past the economic downturn and state revenues recover, states should halt the erosion of TANF benefits and begin restoring the purchasing power lost since TANF’s creation in 1996.

While eight states raised benefits between July 2013 (the start of fiscal year 2014 in most states) and July 2014, the remaining states didn’t, allowing inflation to continue to erode the benefits’ value.  As of July 2014:

  • The purchasing power of benefits for 99 percent of recipients nationally was below 1996 levels, after adjusting for inflation.
  • In every state, TANF benefits for a family of three with no other cash income were below 50 percent of the poverty line.  Most states’ benefits were below 30 percent of the poverty line.  (See interactive map below.)
  • In every state, benefits for a family of three with no other cash income were below the Fair Market Rent (the federal government’s estimate of the rent and utility costs of modest housing) for a two-bedroom apartment.  In 29 states, they covered less than half of the Fair Market Rent.
  • In every state except Alaska, the combination of SNAP (formerly food stamps) and TANF benefits for families receiving both falls below 75 percent of the poverty line.

Of the eight states that raised benefits in the past year (California, Connecticut, Maryland, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming), all but California did so through annual or periodic adjustments that limit erosion due to inflation.  Other states should consider adopting this approach — as well as benefit increases to make up at least some of the lost ground since 1996.

TANF recipients have a limited time on benefits, and most must participate in work or work-preparation activities.  During this time-limited, work-focused window, TANF benefits need to better enable families to meet basic needs so they can focus on finding work and/or increasing their skills in order to leave welfare.

It’s Time to Bolster TANF

October 21, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Cash assistance benefits for the nation’s poorest families with children fell again in purchasing power in 2013, we explain in our annual update of state benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.  Seven states increased TANF grant amounts last year — and encouragingly, no state cut benefits — but most kept family grant levels unchanged, allowing inflation to continue eroding the benefits’ value.

TANF is often the only source of support for participating families and, without it, they would have no cash income to meet their basic needs.  Yet, this critical safety net program supports fewer families — and its benefits are worth less — than ever before. Consider:

  • In 2012, just 25 of every 100 poor families received TANF benefits, down from 68 of every 100 in 1996, the year policymakers created TANF to replace the former Aid to Families with Dependent Children program.
  • TANF benefit levels are at least 20 percent below their 1996 levels in 37 states, after adjusting for inflation.
  • As of July 1, 2013, every state’s benefits for a family of three with no other cash income were below 50 percent of the federal poverty line, measured by the Department of Health and Human Services 2013 poverty guidelines (see map).  Benefits were below 30 percent of the poverty line in most states.


A few of the states that increased TANF benefits in 2013 were following through on past commitments to modestly raise benefits or adjust them for inflation. Three states — Connecticut, Ohio, and Wyoming — increased TANF benefits through annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs).  Such an automatic mechanism, built into state law, is the best way to prevent the value of TANF benefits from falling and to keep them even with inflation.

These are promising steps, but still more states should consider similar policy changes.  It’s time for states to halt the erosion of TANF benefits and slowly restore some of the purchasing power the grants have lost over the past 17 years.

Click here for the full paper and 50-state data.