About 3.5 million children and 1.1 million parents receive cash assistance each month from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to help cover their basic needs.
Families turn to TANF at times of major economic or personal distress, usually when they have lost a job or are facing a crisis such as fleeing an abusive situation or caring for a sick child. Many also face serious personal and family challenges, such as mental or physical health problems. In spite of the barriers they face, nearly all adult recipients must look for work and participate in approved work activities for 20 to 30 hours per week in order to receive benefits. Most recipients receive assistance for two years or less.
Congress created TANF as part of the 1996 welfare reform law to serve two different functions: (1) help parents find and maintain employment and (2) provide a safety net for families when they cannot work. Unfortunately, flaws in TANF’s design have limited its success on both fronts, and the economic downturn has exposed its serious weaknesses. In fact, TANF has grown weaker at the very time that the need for it has increased.