Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, often pronounced "TAN-if") is the United States of America's federal assistance program, commonly known as “welfare”. It began on July 1, 1997, and succeeded the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, providing cash assistance to indigent American families with dependent children through the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Before 1996, eligibility was determined by the federal government, which administered the program. Now, states are given grants to run their own programs.

TANF was created by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act instituted under President Bill Clinton in 1996. There is a maximum of 60 months of benefits within one's lifetime (some states instituted shorter periods) and there is a component requiring clients to attempt to find employment. Unmarried minor parents have to live with a responsible adult or guardian. Paternity of children must be established in order to receive benefits. These requirements have led to massive drops in the number of people receiving cash benefits, but there has been no apparent reduction in the national poverty rate, or increase in the poverty rate, for that matter. The act aims to get people off the temporary assistance, primarily by getting them into jobs.

The purposes of the TANF program as described in section 401 of the Social Security Act are as follows:

  1. provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives;
  2. end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage;
  3. prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of these pregnancies; and
  4. encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

TANF sets forward the following work requirements necessary for benefits:

  1. Recipients (with few exceptions) must work as soon as they are job ready or no later than two years after coming on assistance.
  2. Single parents are required to participate in work activities for at least 30 hours per week. Two-parent families must participate in work activities 35 or 55 hours a week, depending upon circumstances.
  3. Failure to participate in work requirements can result in a reduction or termination of benefits to the family.
  4. States, in FY 2004, have to ensure that 50 percent of all families and 90 percent of two-parent families are participating in work activities. If a state reduces its caseload, without restricting eligibility, it can receive a caseload reduction credit. This credit reduces the minimum participation rates the state must achieve.

As of 2006, the initial program has expired but Congress has reauthorized the program under the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. The reauthorization has changed some of the requirements of the program, both for clients and for state administrators of the program.

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