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TANF Overview

To see information about NETWORK's TANF findings contained in our 2010 report, TANF Tested, Lives of Families in Poverty during the Recession, click here.


NETWORK believes that Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) should be a strong part of our national safety net, and has worked in the past to track the program through our 1999 and 2001 Welfare Reform Watch Projects. NETWORK published a new research report in July 2010 (see box above) based on survey responses from low-income families across the nation.

About TANF

TANF replaced traditional “Welfare” (Aid to Families with Dependant Children, AFDC) in 1996. Under the new program, states, territories and tribes receive fixed block grant funds for services, benefits and administrative costs to cover the goals of the TANF program to provide support and promote families. States have wide discretion over the use of these funds, which include income, child care and transportation assistance, job training, education and other services.


After years of implementation and one reauthorization in the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act, TANF remains a flawed part of the nation’s safety net for low-income families with children.

The Senate recently passed a bill that included a one-year extension of TANF reauthorization until September 30, 2011. NETWORK regrets that the Emergency TANF funding, which expired September 30, 2010 and provided over 250,000 jobs to parents and young people, was not extended. Thankfully, the TANF extension included new reporting requirements allowing Congress to study the necessity of counting a wider array of educational activities towards TANF work requirements. NETWORK applauds the Senate for passing a year extension with this new reporting requirement, allowing TANF Reauthorization the debate and consideration so many millions of people deserve. NETWORK encourages the House of Representatives to move quickly to pass the TANF extension and encourages NETWORK members to contact their representatives immediately in support of TANF Reauthorization.

NETWORK will work throughout the reauthorization process for necessary changes to be made.

Key issues of the TANF program:
  • Problematic measure of success: emphasis on reducing TANF caseloads instead of helping people reach economic stability.
  • Deflection or discouragement from the application process, compounded by a lack of coordinated services.
  • Difficult work requirements for families to complete, especially when they encounter barriers, including: disability, victimization by domestic violence, limited education, poor access to childcare, etc.
  • Welfare-to-Work emphasis of TANF pushes many families into low-wage, part-time positions with little room for upward mobility and limits educational opportunities that would prepare them for a new economy in which higher education is critical.
  • Not adequately prepared to support families during an economic recession. A new emergency fund had to be established in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) to boost the program.

As NETWORK studies the effectiveness of TANF we are looking at issues such as: