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ASSOCIATION FOR CAREER & TECHNICAL EDUCATION

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

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Key Information

  • The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program was created through the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Public Law 104-193. It was reauthorized after several short-term extensions in 2005 under the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005.
  • The program came due for reauthorization in 2010, and has since continued operating under several short-term extensions.
  • Congressional focus returned to the issue in 2015 with the release of the Improving Opportunity in America Welfare Reauthorization Act of 2015, a discussion draft introduced by the Committee on Ways and Means.
  • The latest updates can be found on the CTE Policy Watch Blog.

 

Reauthorization

 

Other Groups' Positions

 

Background:

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program was originally created in 1996 through welfare reform legislation titled the "Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996." That legislation created a block grant program that funds a wide variety of public assistance programs in states and territories related to assisting families and children who are struggling in poverty. Federal funding for the program is coupled with funds accumulated through a mandatory state maintenance of effort provision to support poverty alleviation and build participants' self-sufficiency.

TANF's best-known component is its cash assistance for recipients, although it also supports other initiatives to support families in poverty, address underlying or systemic barriers to individuals' economic success and prevent child abuse and neglect. A major component of the program's administration at the federal level is that of the Work Participation Rate (WPR), which requires states to gather data on the number of individuals receiving assistance under TANF and the work or work-related activities (including participation in education and training programs) those individuals are engaging in while receiving assistance. This accountability system is structured to encourage states to maximize the number of individuals participating in work or work-related activities, while reducing the number of overall recipients over time. However, it has come under significant criticism from a wide variety of groups for its lack of flexibility, the limited scope of activities recognized as contributing to states' overall WPR, and the potential for states to be perversely incentivized to not serve individuals deeply in need of assistance. In addition, many individuals receiving support under the program are unable to obtain education and training that will improve their career prospects due to provisions included in the WPR measures.

After the original TANF block grant was due for reauthorization in 2002, Congress passed a number of short-term extensions to the program before fully reauthorizing it through the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. This reauthorization extended the program for five years, and implemented a number of changes to the program, including raising the overall minimum requirements for states under the WPR. Since TANF came due for October of 2010, however, Congress has sustained the program through several short-term extensions in lieu of a full reauthorization. In 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services' announced that it would begin to grant states waivers to the WPR requirements, which drew legislators' attention again to the issue. In July of 2015, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources released a discussion draft to reauthorize the legislation and held the first hearing since, kicking off new interest in strategies to improve the TANF program.

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