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Friday, August 30, 2013

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): Characteristics of the Cash Assistance Caseload

Gene Falk
Specialist in Social Policy

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant provides states, territories, and Indian tribes with federal grants for benefits and services to ameliorate the effects, and address the root causes, of child poverty. It was created in the 1996 welfare reform law, and is most associated with policies such as time limits and work requirements that sought to address concerns about “welfare dependency” of single mothers who received cash assistance. This report examines the characteristics of the TANF cash assistance caseload in FY2010, and compares it with selected post-welfare reform years (FY2001 and FY2006) and pre-welfare reform years (FY1988 and FY1994). The size of the caseload first increased, from 3.7 million families per month in FY1988 to 5.0 million families per month in FY1994, and then declined dramatically to 2.2 million families in FY2001 and 1.9 million families in FY2010. Over this period, some of the characteristics of the TANF cash assistance caseload have remained fairly stable, and other characteristics have changed.

 Most cash assistance families are small; 51.7% of all TANF cash assistance families in FY2010 had one child. Cash assistance families also frequently have young children; 57.9% in FY2010 had a pre-school-aged child. The majority of the cash assistance caseload has also been composed of racial and ethnic minorities. By FY2010, the largest racial/ethnic group of TANF cash assistance children was Hispanic. In that year, of all TANF assistance child recipients, 34.1%  were Hispanic, 31.7% were African-American, and 27.1% were non-Hispanic white. The growth in Hispanic children as a percent of all TANF assistance children is due entirely to their population growth—not an increase in the rate at which Hispanic children receive TANF.

 Additionally, the majority of adult recipients today, as in the past, are women—specifically, single mothers. However, the share of the caseload comprised of families with an adult recipient has declined substantially in the post-welfare reform period. Almost 4 out of 10 families receiving TANF cash assistance in FY2010 represented child-only” families, in which benefits are paid on behalf of the child in the family but the adult caretaker is ineligible for TANF. The three main components of the “child-only” caseload are (1) families with a disabled parent receiving federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI); (2) families with an ineligible, immigrant parent but with eligible citizen children; and (3) families with children being cared for by a nonparent relative, such as a grandparent, aunt, or uncle. Each of the three categories of families differs in their characteristics from TANF cash assistance families with an adult recipient; there are also differences in characteristics among families in the three major “child-only” categories.

 TANF policies generally date back to the 1996 welfare law and the welfare reform debates of the 1980s and 1990s, and do not necessarily address the current composition of the cash assistance caseload. The major performance measure used to evaluate TANF is the work participation rate, a measure not relevant to TANF “child-only” families. Many of TANFs child-only families are affected by social policies other than TANF (i.e., federal disability, immigration, and child protection policies). However, these families are also affected by TANF, and there are currently  no federal rules for assessing how TANF funds are used to improve their well-being. Options that have been raised include requiring states to provide more information to the federal government and public on benefits and services afforded to “child-only” families. Congress could also either establish performance goals and measures, or, alternatively, require states to establish such goals and measures for child-only” families. 

Date of Report: August 21, 2013
Number of Pages: 25
Order Number: R42953
Price: $29.95

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