A Focus on Poverty and the TANF Program

by MaryLou Beaver, Director, Every Child Matters in New Hampshire

As part of our month long series on poverty, we’ll begin with a look at the TANF program. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a block grant created by the Personal Responsibility and Work opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, as part of a federal effort to “end welfare as we know it.” The TANF program replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, which had provided cash welfare to poor families with children since 1935.

TANF was designed to move welfare from a strictly cash safety net to emphasizing work for welfare parents. Here is what was required under the 1996 Federal Activities:

Core Activities 20 or more hours/week

  • Unsubsidized employment
  • Subsidized private sector employment
  • Subsidized public sector employment
  • Work experience if sufficient private sector employment is not available
  • On-the-job training
  • Job search/job readiness (six weeks in a fiscal year; only 4 weeks can be consecutive)
  • Community service
  • Vocational educational training (not to exceed 12 months with respect to any individual. No more than 30% of caseload may be deemed in this countable activity
  • Provision of child care to TANF recipients in a community service program

    Secondary Activities 10 or less hours/week

  • Job skills training directly related to employment
  • Education directly related to employment, in the case of a recipient who has not received a high school diploma or certificate of high school equivalency
  • Satisfactory attendance at a secondary school or in a course of study leading to a certificate of general equivalence (GED), in the case of a recipient who has not completed secondary school or received such a certificate.

Ten years later, in 2006, Congress revisited welfare reform with the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA). The DRA did not back off on work requirements.  On the contrary, it reaffirmed and made them more restrictive than ever. 

Under the TANF structure, the federal government provides a block grant (a lump sum of money for a specific issue or problem) to the states. New Hampshire receives $38 million and must also put in $32 million of general fund dollars to meet the MOE [Maintenance of Effort] requirement. States then use these funds to operate their own programs. States can use TANF dollars in ways designed to meet any of the purposes set out in federal law:

  • Provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives;
  • End the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work and marriage;
  • Prevent and reduce out-of-wedlock pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of these pregnancies;
  • Encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

TANF has two principal missions: To serve as a cash safety net for low income children and to move parents to financial independence through employment.

While TANF is protected by sequester in the 2013 budget, TANF and MOE funds are not keeping pace with inflation. The basic TANF block grant and each state’s MOE requirement have been frozen since TANF’s creation in 1996. While inflation during the past decade has been relatively low by historical standards, the purchasing power of these funding sources has declined quite substantially over this period.

In July 1996, when welfare reform occurred, the maximum TANF grant for a family of 4 in NH was $613 per month. The federal poverty level for a family of 4 was $15,150 per year, meaning the grant covered 49% of the poverty level. Today the maximum grant for that same family of 4 in NH is $738 per month and the federal poverty level is $23,050, meaning the grant is covering less than 39%.

As more and more children fall into poverty, we must protect the programs that protect them.