How the TANF Program Can Help You and Your Family Become Self-Sufficient

The U.S. federal government provides funding to a wide variety of financial assistance programs that aim to help individuals and families in need. Through these programs, qualifying households can get direct payments of funds, access to resources and services and have portions of their rent or utility payments paid. 

Though some people may need these financial assistance programs for the remainder of their lives, often due to disability or old age, many others can use these programs to help them stay afloat during particularly tough times and better their work and family situations. Here’s everything you need to know about the TANF program, including what it does and the benefits it provides, the qualification requirements for TANF assistance payments and services and how to apply for these much-needed resources.

What Benefits Does the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program Provide?
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That’s the precise reason the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program exists: to provide financial assistance and access to helpful resources and services for a limited amount of time in an effort to embolden families to become more self-sufficient. This federally funded, state-run program is available in all 50 states and other U.S. national territories, and it helps thousands of families every year. The U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services oversees the TANF block grant program and ensures state’s continue to create and sustain programs that meet program requirements.     

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program was established in 1996 to replace the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Unlike its predecessor, the TANF block grant program allowed states to more flexibly choose how to use TANF funds for cash assistance, resource allocation and the development of more comprehensive services that promote self-sufficiency. On the other hand, the AFDC focused on providing cash assistance directly to families and invested less in programs and services that help reduce families’ reliance on government assistance.

The programs created and maintained by federal and state TANF funds must work toward one or more of the following four goals:

  • To assist needy families so children can be cared for in their own homes or relatives’ homes.
  • To reduce needy parents’ dependency on government assistance by promoting job preparation, work and marriage.
  • To prevent pregnancies among unmarried people.
  • To encourage the creation and maintenance of two-parent families.

Since its inception in 1996, the TANF program has provided $16.5 billion each year to the 50 states and territories toward funding relevant programs. In addition to using federally provided funds, states must also dedicate their funds, also referred to as “maintenance of effort” (MOE) or state TANF funds, to maintaining TANF programs.

Since the goal’s of this funding program are so broad, state’s have the flexibility to establish and maintain a wide variety of programs, including but not limited to:

  • Cash assistance, wage supplements and direct payments.
  • Childcare facilities.
  • Education and job training.
  • Employment preparation, such as help with a job search, creating a resume and practicing for interviews.
  • Transportation.
  • Aid to children at risk of abuse or neglect.

The TANF program invests much less in direct cash assistance that its predecessor because states are using these funds to create new and transform existing economic welfare programs in thousands of communities. These programs must work toward one or more of the four goals in order to continue receiving federal TANF block grant funds and state MOE funds.

State MOE funds must equal at least 80% of their contribution to AFDC programs, or 75% if the state meets the program’s work participation rate, which many states meet. As of 2019, states were spending approximately $15 billion dollars to fund relevant programs. Since each state runs its own TANF programs, the availability and type of cash assistance, resources and services at your discretion can vary widely, depending on where you live. The eligibility requirements and application processes can vary, too. To learn more about the TANF benefits, services, resources and programs offered in your state, you can visit your state TANF agency’s website or contact them directly.

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