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Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

In 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) block-granted the old Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) federal welfare program to the states, giving them the flexibility to reform their welfare systems. The state-run program is now called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

The Issue

Some states have developed thoughtful policies and integrated services needed to help recipients move into the workplace, but too few states are rising to the challenge. States need to integrate services further, enforce sanctions, require TANF recipients to work, implement cash diversion programs, and limit lifetime eligibility for recipients.

Service integration is key. Instead of making TANF-eligible persons go to three different offices for child care, job training, and substance abuse treatment, for example, service integration links all three services structurally, often with a single caseworker or “self-sufficiency coach” and preferably in the same location.

Work improves family well-being economically by providing a steady source of income and the opportunity to acquire assets. It also builds self-esteem, imposes order on adults’ lifestyles, creates role models for children, and fosters relationships of respect among adults and between adults and children.

Our Stance

States should limit the lifetime eligibility of individuals and families for TANF benefits to 60 months (five years) adopt strong, full-family sanctions to encourage workforce involvement and self-sufficiency; implement cash diversion programs that allow caseworkers to solve problems without adding people to welfare rolls; and require TANF recipients to work in order to receive benefits.