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[Excerpt] The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant was created by the 1996 welfare reform law, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-193). It replaced the program of cash assistance for needy families that dated back to the New Deal, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), and some of its related programs. The enactment of the 1996 welfare reform law was the culmination of a debate about how to overhaul programs providing cash assistance to needy families with children— specifically, those headed by single mothers—that spanned four decades: from the 1960s to the 1990s.

Most of the legislative activity on TANF over the past 15 years has been to temporarily extend the program funding and financing authority for TANF. The 1996 welfare law provided both program authority and funding (appropriations) for TANF through the end of FY2002. Since then, with the exception of one long-term extension, TANF funding has been extended at various times on a short-term basis. Most of these extensions did not change TANF policy, though policy changes were included in extensions enacted in 2006, 2010, and 2012. The Consolidated Appropriation Act, 2017 (P.L. 115-31) extended TANF funding through the end of FY2018 and altered certain provisions related to research on TANF and its outcomes.

This report will begin with a brief overview of the history of the AFDC program and the welfare reform debates of the 1960s to the 1990s. That overview will be followed by a summary of the 1996 welfare reform law and the changes made since 1996. The report concludes with a detailed chronology of TANF legislation.


Suggested Citation
Falk, G. (2017). The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Block Grant: A legislative history (CRS Report R44668). Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service.