TANF serves low-income families with children, providing temporary cash assistance, noncash services, or one-time emergency assistance payments. TANF was established in 1996, replacing Aid to Families with Dependent Children and changing welfare into a fixed block-grant program promoting work and personal responsibility. States vary tremendously in their TANF policies and in their use of federal block grant funds. Those funds are based on state spending from 1994 to 1996 and have not been adjusted for inflation.
All states are required to meet work participation rates for enrolled families (50 percent of all families and 90 percent of all two-parent families must be participating in work activities). The federal government defines what counts as work participation activities and monitors states’ participation rates.
Federal funding can only be used to pay for cash benefits for a maximum of five years in a family’s lifetime; states can establish shorter time limits or pay for benefits beyond five years using their own funds.