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[Excerpt] Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a federal program that provides cash assistance, work support, and other services to some low-income families. The cash assistance is generally limited to families with income well below the poverty threshold and few assets; it goes to roughly 2 million families per month, most of them headed by single mothers. The work support (such as subsidized child care) and the other services (such as initiatives to reduce out-of-wedlock pregnancies and promote marriage) are usually available to families with income up to twice the poverty threshold.

The states administer TANF and have considerable latitude in determining the mix of cash assistance, work support, and other services that it provides. However, if too few families receiving cash assistance are participating in work-related activities, a state can lose some federal funding. States therefore impose work requirements on recipients of cash assistance. Also, those recipients face federal limits on how long they are eligible for cash assistance. The work requirements and the time limits are intended to achieve one of TANF’s goals: ending recipients’ dependence on government benefits.


Suggested Citation
Congressional Budget Office. (2015). Temporary Assistance for Needy Families: Spending and policy options. Washington, DC: Author.