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[Excerpt] The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant provides federal grants 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.The TANF block grant was created in the 1996 welfare reform law (P.L. 104-193).

At the federal level, TANF is administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). TANF programs operate in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands. American Samoa is eligible to operate a TANF program, but has not opted to do so.1 The Social Security Act designates all these jurisdictions as “states,” and thus that term will be used for them in this report.2 Federally recognized Indian tribes may also operate TANF programs. Tribal TANF programs are funded through allocations made from the TANF basic block grant to the state in which the tribe offers TANF benefits and services. It is the states and the tribes that provide TANF benefits and services to families and individuals.

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 federal TANF and state MOE funds may be used to help achieve the purpose and goals of the TANF block grant;

  • rules that apply when TANF or MOE funds are used to provide “assistance” to needy families with children;

  • rules that apply when TANF or MOE funds are used for benefits and services other than assistance;

  • certain accountability requirements, 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, and tribal TANF provisions.


Suggested Citation
Falk, G. (2017). The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Block Grant: A primer on TANF financing and federal requirements (CRS Report RL37248). Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service.

A previous version of this report can be found here: