Temporary Aid to Needy Families Analysis


The Temporary Aid to Needy Family (TANF) program assists underprivileged families with underage children to become independent. It offers comprehensive services such as income assistance, job preparation, child care, and education. For example, in 2020, states utilized 22.3% of TANF finances for basic aid, 16.6% on childcare, and 9.7% on educational activities and work (Mackey, 2022). TANF is time-limited and only supports impoverished households for five years. The individual states determine the eligibility of TANF beneficiaries. However, after staying in the United States for five years, immigrants can only benefit from this program. The amount of TANF cash that disadvantaged families receive depends on their family size and whether they have additional earnings.


The TANF program was established in 1996 to replace the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), which previously offered funds to poverty-stricken families with children. The creation of TANF was inspired by the welfare reform debates between the 1960s and 1990s (DiNitto & Johnson, 2015). The initial funding for TANF extended from 1996 to 2002. Since then, most of its legislative actions have been funded on a short-term basis. However, the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) influenced the long-term funding of TANF from 2006 to 2010 (“The Temporary Assistance,” 2021). The DRA also introduced alterations to TANF work rules, including the work participation standards and changing the caseload reduction credit.

Over the decades, the national TANF caseload has significantly declined. For instance, from 1997 to 2011, the country’s caseload had reduced by 50%, while the decline across different states ranged from 25% to 80%. In addition, the program’s take-up rate has also dwindled continuously since its creation, dropping to about 36% in 2007 (Wang, 2020). Although the program was intended to assist underprivileged families, most of its recent cases only focused on children rather than adults.


The national government and individual states fund TANF. The federal TANF aid has been set at 16.5 billion dollars each year since 1996 (“Policy Basics,” 2022). As a condition to obtain the complete federal TANF grant, states are mandated to set aside finances to assist families struggling with poverty. This requirement is called “maintenance of effort” (MOE); each state is expected to spend 80% of its 1994 input towards AFDC-related plans as its MOE. Nevertheless, the MOE has been lowered to 75% for the states that comply with the work participation rate.


TANF has been perceived as less effective compared to AFDC. Although the project is expected to benefit millions of vulnerable families, research indicates that only a few struggling families receive the aid. It is estimated that if TANF had been as influential as AFDC in 1996, an additional 2 million families would have benefited from its aid in 2019. Studies show that the effectiveness of this initiative has declined dramatically. In 2019, only 23 out of every 100 impoverished families got income assistance from TANF (Meyer & Floyd, 2020). This is estimated to be a two-thirds drop from 1996 when 68 families from every 100 families in poverty obtained cash assistance.

The TANF-to-poverty ratio (TPR) has critically dropped in most states. This has been attributed to the implementation of more restrictive policies that hinder underprivileged families from accessing TANF income or support. For example, in 2019, over 14 states, including Georgia, Oklahoma, Idaho, and Texas, had TPRs of about 10 or fewer (Meyer & Floyd, 2020). This implies that only 10 or fewer families out of every 100 families living in poverty received cash assistance. The decline in the TPR ratio may also be linked to inadequate federal funding. A study shows that TANF’s national spending has been limited to 16.5 billion dollars annually for over two decades. The funds have not been increased despite inflation or population growth. Hence, the block grant has lost almost one-third of its value, making it significantly weak and unable to adequately support underprivileged households (Vallas & Boteach, 2015). Therefore, the TANF helps a few impoverished families due to limited legislative barriers and limited funds.

The states’ flexibility to control the TANF aid has greatly hindered the program’s success in alleviating poverty. A study shows that due to states’ unaccountability, only 1 dollar out of every 4 dollars in TANF cash aid is channeled to vulnerable families; the rest is used for different purposes (Vallas & Boteach, 2015). This has resulted in broad variations in state TPRs, creating racial inequalities. According to research, 41% of African American children reside in states with a TPR of less than 10 (Meyer & Floyd, 2020). Research also shows that compared to AFDC, which assisted 2.9 million children from extreme poverty in 1995, the TANF has only alleviated 260,000 children from deep poverty in 2017 (Meyer & Floyd, 2020). Thus, TANF may be perceived as ineffective because it has proven to be inadequate in assisting underprivileged families.


Even though TANF’s efficacy in assisting needy families has significantly declined, the program can be improved to increase its caseload in the future. This may be achieved by creating accountability measures to motivate states to spend more on vulnerable families. To foster continuity, there is also a need to reauthorize TANF to increase the program’s funds. Likewise, the states should focus more on enhancing the job outcomes of the recipients rather than their engagement in work activities. This may be achieved through implementing more effective work programs such as sectoral training, work-based learning, subsidized employment, and comprehensive education programs. Such initiatives have been linked to increased earnings which would significantly help underprivileged families.

TANF’s adoption of innovative approaches may significantly improve its operations in the future. In this case, during the Covid-19 period, TANF began administering and delivering its services through virtual means such as online video conferencing avenues. TANF has also increased the use of technology in its operations. It has undertaken the initiative to provide computers and internet access to its recipients. The program has also intensified the use of social media channels among its staff and recipients. Therefore, this shows that in the future, TANF will significantly rely on digital platforms like social media platforms and video conferencing to carry out its operations.

Human Service Values and the Saint Leo Core Value

The core values of the human service profession require individuals to respect dignity and welfare while promoting the self-determination of those they serve. In addition, professionals need to appreciate cultural diversity and promote social justice. They should also be honest, and genuine and act with objectivity and integrity (“Ethical Standards,” n.d). These values allow human service professionals to build clients’ strengths and safeguard the community’s well-being. This goal correlates with Saint Leo’s responsible stewardship, one of the core values promoting service spirit (“Mission Statement,” n.d). It requires all individuals to be resourceful and use available resources to help develop the institution and the neighboring community.

Ethical Concerns That Have Developed as a Result of TANF

TANF has raised more concerns about its role in meeting the need of impoverished families. On the national and local levels, policymakers, implementers, and human service professionals have been at odds with a number of the policy’s conflicting goals. For instance, the state has the discretion to determine the eligibility levels for the program. This practice has created a considerable variation in benefits levels nationwide. As a result, the qualification guidelines have aggravated racial disparities since most beneficiaries with the lowest benefits are African-Americans. This has made it difficult for these individuals to meet their basic needs. Despite a sharp caseload decline under TANF, states have also failed to reinvest the savings that might help in raising benefit levels. Currently, approximately 55% of children in African-American communities live in areas with benefits below 20% of the poverty level, compared to 40 percent of white children. (“Policy Basics,” 2021). These restrictive measures by the states create a wide variation in program access and significant disparities by race, thus failing to provide substantial protection against poverty.

Between 2006 and 2019, the TPR fell in most states. This reduction is attributed to deliberate administrative changes seen as a strategy to restrict access and reduce costs, especially during the great recession. Research shows that TPR decreased by over 10 points across 23 states from 2006 to 2019. In addition, these regions experienced a reduction in TANF caseloads while the poverty rate increased significantly. It is projected that only one in three households with children living below the poverty line receive TANF currently, compared to 8 in 10 families in 1996. (Meyer & Floyd, 2020) In this case, policymakers and implementers have failed to be very responsive in alleviating poverty. The level of assistance has not been improved in most states despite the tremendous increase in inflation, unemployment, and population.

The Ethical Standards for Human Services Professionals

Human service professionals require a solid foundation to make ethical decisions on issues that the communities experience. The standards provided by NOHS play a vital role in ethical decision-making or when faced with morally unclear concerns. In this case, people who use these guidelines may include administrators, students, professionals in community agencies, and national organizations who identify with human services. A study shows that there is a huge racial disparity in accessing TANF benefits. This behavior violates Standard 10, which requires individuals in the field to provide services without discriminating against anybody based on their religion, gender, age, ethnicity, race, or historical and economic status. Another ethical concern mentioned earlier is deliberate policy changes that restrict access to the program. These inefficiencies are known to negatively impact millions of families across the nation. Therefore, according to Standard 12, human service employees must be updated on local, regional, and federal laws to advocate for changes in legislation that violate people’s rights (“Ethical Standards,” n.d). Thus, these standards allow professionals in this field to pay attention to social issues and how regulations negatively affect communities.


TANF is a vital program that cushions underprivileged families against economic hardships by offering income aid, job training, and educational opportunities to the beneficiaries. TANF is mainly financed by the state and national governments. Since its formation, its caseload has significantly dwindled, and currently, only a few families receive its aid and support. The low caseload has been linked to limited federal support and the lack of accountability from individual states on the utilization of the TANF funds. Nevertheless, the program can be improved if the states and the national government channel more funds toward helping impoverished families. The improved use of technology and online platforms can significantly improve the program’s reach in the country in the near future.


DiNitto, D. M., & Johnson, D. H. (2015). Social welfare: Politics and public policy. Pearson.

Ethical standards for human services professionals. (n.d). National Organization of Human Services. Web.

Mackey, R. (2022). Reauthorize the temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) block grant. National Association of Counties. Web.

Meyer, L. & Floyd, I. (2020). Cash assistance should reach millions more families to lessen hardship. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Web.

Mission statement, core values, & catholic identity. (n.d). Saint Leo University. Web.

Policy basics: Temporary assistance for needy families. (2021). Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Web.

The temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) block grant: A legislative history. (2021). Congressional Research Service. Web.

Vallas, R. & Boteach, M. (2015). Top 5 reasons why TANF is not a model for other income assistance programs. American Progress. Web.

Wang, J. SH. (2020). State TANF time limit and work sanction stringencies and long-term trajectories of welfare use, labor supply, and income. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 42(4), 650-696. Web.

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