Publication Date



[Excerpt] The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant provides federal grants to the 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Indian tribes, and the territories for a wide range of benefits and activities. It is best known as the major source of funding for cash welfare for needy families with children. However, federal law allows TANF funds to be used for other benefits and services that provide economic help to low-income families with children and to support the goals of reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancies and promoting two-parent families.

This report provides an overview of TANF financing and rules for state programs, describing

• federal TANF grants and state funds under a “maintenance-of-effort” (MOE) requirement;

• how states may use federal TANF and state MOE funds to help achieve the purpose and goals of the TANF block grant;

• rules that apply to states when they use TANF or MOE funds to provide cash welfare to needy families with children;

• rules that apply to states when they use TANF or MOE funds for benefits and services other than cash welfare;

• certain accountability requirements that apply to states, including requirements that states submit plans and report data to the federal government; and

• provisions of TANF law not directly related to grants to states, such as competitive grants for promoting healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood, tribal TANF provisions, and research funds.


Suggested Citation
Falk, G. (2013). The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant: A primer on TANF financing and federal requirements. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.

An earlier version of this report can be found here: