Policy Analysis | January 2020

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Roger Moore

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a federal assistance program administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Established in 1996 as a replacement for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), TANF is designed to provide struggling families with financial assistance, childcare support and job preparation to achieve self-sufficiency. Under TANF, states receive block grants from the federal government to operate their own programs to meet the following objectives:

  1. “Provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives”
  2. “End the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage”
  3. “Prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of these pregnancies”
  4. “Encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families”1

The amount of the TANF block grant is based on states’ expenditures for AFDC during the fiscal year (FY) 1992-1995 period, when the number of public assistance recipients was relatively high.2 The total annual TANF block grant amounts to nearly $17 billion, with SLC states receiving grants from a high of $538,595,947 in Texas, to a low of $62,839,408 in Arkansas during FY 2018.3

As a condition of receiving the block grants, states must contribute their own funding – known as the maintenance-of-effort (MOE) obligation – dedicated to achieving TANF’s four stated objectives (see above). The MOE must be at least 75 percent to 80 percent of state contributions to AFDC in FY 1995.*  Once the TANF block grants are distributed, states have wide latitude in determining how they are spent. Cash assistance, child care, education, job training, transportation and support for children at risk of abuse all meet TANF eligibility.4  

States are permitted to transfer up to 30 percent of their annual funding to the Child Care and Development Fund and 10 percent to the Social Services Block Grant.5 Since FY 2010, Florida and Oklahoma have transferred the most funding to the two programs as a percentage of their annual TANF grants, transferring an average of nearly 29 percent during the period, followed by Mississippi and North Carolina at 25.9 percent and 24.8 percent, respectively. 

States are not required to spend a specified amount of annual TANF funding each year. According to federal guidelines, it is permissible for states to carry over remaining balances into the next fiscal year, either to be spent on eligible programs or placed in reserve for future needs, such as an increase in the number of recipients during an economic downturn. As a result of this flexibility, SLC states historically have carried over significantly different annual TANF balances. In FY 2018, for example, Tennessee had a remaining balance of $570,718,889, while Missouri had a remaining balance of $5,317,646. Similarly, in FY 2017, Virginia had a remaining balance of $121,984,621, compared to $9,506,845 in Texas.

Between FY 2010 and 2018, there were 37 instances when SLC states had a remaining TANF balance at or near $0. Louisiana used all available federal funding eight out of the nine years during the period, followed by Oklahoma (seven), Texas (six), South Carolina (five), Florida (four), North Carolina (three), Missouri (two), Alabama (one) and West Virginia (one).6


* The MOE is set at 80 percent of FY 1995 AFDC contributions. However, the requirement is reduced to 75 percent for states that meet the work participation rate (WPR), which is the ratio of the number of adult TANF recipients who are working or in designated work-related activities compared to the total number of families receiving TANF-related cash assistance. To meet the WPR, half of families receiving TANF cash assistance must be engaged in work activities for at least 30 hours per week, and 90 percent of two-parent families must be engaged in work activities for at least 35 hours per week.


Summary of Federal TANF Funds, SLC States, FY 2010-2018

State TANF Block Grant Total Federal Funds
FY 2010 Grant + carryover from previous fiscal years
Transferred
Child Care Development Fund and/or Social Services Block Grant
Total Federal Expenditures Remaining Balance
Final year-end amount remaining after expenditures and other obligations are met
Alabama $146,808,309 $178,463,932 $10,440,844 $140,474,963 $17,160,360
Arkansas $75,637,905 $159,892,355 $0 $136,535,898 $22,423,036
Florida $779,939,030 $813,137,217 $184,823,735 $489,511,905 $0
Georgia $451,428,732 $544,029,008 $13,800,000 $389,889,938 $48,451,537
Kentucky $230,412,741 $279,194,261 $54,386,300 $194,813,798 $9,637,468
Louisiana $262,984,988 $286,567,060 $30,871,806 $172,950,395 $0
Mississippi $123,649,617 $152,192,499 $28,740,975 $83,941,666 $30,545,051
Missouri $266,355,323 $266,355,323 $27,455,174 $212,395,384 $3,719,377
North Carolina $429,021,427 $628,744,856 $93,839,913 $248,063,866 $76,775,972
Oklahoma $171,998,376 $213,690,992 $43,584,432 $118,879,036 $0
South Carolina $129,827,974 $149,821,539 $0 $129,827,974 $19,993,565
Tennessee $257,516,913 $405,163,089 $63,926,680 $218,505,666 $122,730,743
Texas $782,092,901 $910,916,879 $25,661,584 $658,557,631 $0
Virginia $190,053,155 $210,730,880 $20,024,457 $156,544,998 $25,347,247
West Virginia $160,271,158 $223,226,889 $11,017,631 $164,415,692 $47,784,078
State TANF Block Grant Total Federal Funds
FY 2011 Grant + carryover from previous fiscal years
Transferred
Child Care Development Fund and/or Social Services Block Grant
Total Federal Expenditures Remaining Balance
Final year-end amount remaining after expenditures and other obligations are met
Alabama $100,653,578 $128,201,703 $11,964,633 $109,737,857 $0
Arkansas $63,683,061 $129,678,129 $250,000 $69,485,642 $59,942,487
Florida $602,299,471 $741,101,048 $178,755,505 $427,834,778 $109,470,548
Georgia $355,405,213 $495,744,283 $0 $388,134,240 $38,332,058
Kentucky $181,287,669 $211,281,832 $13,596,575 $155,000,922 $7,720,152
Louisiana $175,235,636 $274,263,289 $20,803,680 $212,368,302 $1,488,436
Mississippi $92,744,827 $132,254,685 $27,823,448 $88,117,247 $8,889,324
Missouri $217,051,740 $243,556,504 $44,701,176 $190,385,828 $3,719,379
North Carolina $341,223,346 $628,064,423 $96,108,642 $314,087,897 $3,517,651
Oklahoma $145,281,442 $196,508,966 $43,584,432 $112,513,400 $6,752,604
South Carolina $104,966,214 $104,966,214 $0 $104,966,214 $0
Tennessee $215,365,684 $338,096,427 $61,736,847 $215,673,488 $60,686,092
Texas $521,123,819 $738,118,581 $32,408,086 $550,059,409 $154,400,020
Virginia $158,285,172 $192,446,597 $26,953,164 $146,161,049 $18,390,473
West Virginia $110,176,310 $157,969,876 $11,017,631 $137,508,964 $9,443,281
State TANF Block Grant Total Federal Funds
FY 2012 Grant + carryover from previous fiscal years
Transferred
Child Care Development Fund and/or Social Services Block Grant
Total Federal Expenditures Remaining Balance
Final year-end amount remaining after expenditures and other obligations are met
Alabama $93,315,207 $99,814,420 $2,500,000 $88,157,376 $5,689,067
Arkansas $61,721,391 $118,752,058 $0 $76,645,438 $42,106,620
Florida $562,340,120 $696,850,886 $161,980,362 $398,292,553 $87,466,822
Georgia $330,741,739 $438,351,782 $0 $349,310,900 $54,056,338
Kentucky $181,287,669 $223,912,534 $47,789,725 $166,487,456 $7,720,153
Louisiana $145,725,780 $185,328,651 $16,397,199 $168,760,026 $0
Mississippi $86,767,579 $103,325,624 $26,030,274 $58,810,359 $12,867,051
Missouri $236,137,159 $244,606,659 $44,701,176 $180,554,336 $19,351,144
North Carolina $328,815,607 $546,683,491 $92,440,660 $263,363,437 $3,517,653
Oklahoma $145,281,442 $185,688,577 $43,584,432 $88,439,634 $6,748,605
South Carolina $108,758,021 $108,758,021 $0 $95,183,711 $13,574,310
Tennessee $208,364,535 $269,050,627 $32,224,287 $216,351,844 $20,474,496
Texas $413,394,250 $568,804,305 $33,565,875 $442,854,998 $0
Virginia $158,285,172 $176,875,210 $33,941,968 $116,252,362 $25,112,223
West Virginia $110,176,310 $119,619,591 $11,017,631 $99,147,536 $0
State TANF Block Grant Total Federal Funds
FY 2013 Grant + carryover from previous fiscal years
Transferred
Child Care Development Fund and/or Social Services Block Grant
Total Federal Expenditures Remaining Balance
Final year-end amount remaining after expenditures and other obligations are met
Alabama $92,984,144 $102,141,188 $5,000,000 $82,880,292 $10,602,425
Arkansas $60,159,849 $102,266,469 $0 $67,947,643 $16,027,323
Florida $475,366,962 $611,944,933 $170,980,206 $410,889,769 $493,863
Georgia $313,680,335 $402,721,217 $0 $320,578,117 $60,912,715
Kentucky $176,215,477 $185,850,830 $24,693,150 $157,635,254 $3,522,426
Louisiana $163,971,985 $164,143,411 $16,397,198 $147,711,608 $0
Mississippi $78,061,911 $96,546,901 $26,030,274 $58,623,597 $7,865,405
Missouri $229,403,360 $248,754,510 $29,054,504 $197,615,367 -$168,515
North Carolina $327,796,962 $518,676,356 $83,731,732 $238,855,836 $3,517,652
Oklahoma $138,532,835 $192,197,346 $43,584,432 $95,303,031 $0
South Carolina $107,278,665 $120,852,975 $0 $108,483,606 $12,369,369
Tennessee $208,273,474 $228,747,970 $9,631,362 $159,812,734 $59,303,874
Texas $528,782,245 $621,165,677 $33,565,875 $434,916,544 $0
Virginia $157,266,839 $183,934,005 $23,292,722 $121,624,326 $33,873,691
West Virginia $100,787,162 $110,241,586 $11,017,631 $99,158,679 $65,276
State TANF Block Grant Total Federal Funds
FY 2014 Grant + carryover from previous fiscal years
Transferred
Child Care Development Fund and/or Social Services Block Grant
Total Federal Expenditures Remaining Balance
Final year-end amount remaining after expenditures and other obligations are met
Alabama $102,581,417 $116,842,313 $9,331,520 $73,872,484 $30,694,199
Arkansas $62,366,441 $96,685,267 $0 $47,144,364 $49,540,903
Florida $565,174,263 $595,249,221 $166,896,032 $394,049,612 $0
Georgia $330,741,739 $412,884,839 $1,641,997 $333,885,204 $42,498,544
Kentucky $181,287,669 $184,810,095 $0 $180,417,212 $4,392,885
Louisiana $163,533,444 $163,568,049 $16,353,344 $147,214,705 $0
Mississippi $86,767,578 $98,660,607 $26,030,274 $51,462,669 $21,167,665
Missouri $217,051,740 $239,304,894 $21,701,176 $207,946,642 $0
North Carolina $331,367,556 $527,456,344 $81,601,260 $241,255,422 $3,517,652
Oklahoma $145,281,442 $198,591,325 $43,584,432 $93,199,034 $0
South Carolina $109,894,640 $123,695,833 $0 $88,185,007 $35,510,826
Tennessee $210,542,134 $269,846,008 $25,284,733 $91,482,990 $153,078,285
Texas $534,542,111 $687,225,369 $33,566,135 $464,936,866 $0
Virginia $158,285,172 $198,058,189 $33,630,652 $110,149,025 $53,624,599
West Virginia $110,176,310 $110,241,586 $11,017,631 $95,499,784 $3,724,171
State TANF Block Grant Total Federal Funds
FY 2015 Grant + carryover from previous fiscal years
Transferred
Child Care Development Fund and/or Social Services Block Grant
Total Federal Expenditures Remaining Balance
Final year-end amount remaining after expenditures and other obligations are met
Alabama $103,710,675 $133,273,503 $9,331,520 $70,858,290 $41,833,693
Arkansas $63,052,990 $97,593,893 $0 $53,309,969 $10,851,193
Florida $562,340,120 $597,137,559 $125,172,023 $386,397,767 $41,724,009
Georgia $330,741,739 $408,091,343 $6,723,084 $359,267,266 $10,022,789
Kentucky $181,287,668 $183,035,479 $0 $152,807,377 $30,228,102
Louisiana $163,971,985 $163,971,985 $16,397,198 $134,624,833 $0
Mississippi $86,767,577 $107,935,242 $26,030,273 $46,124,884 $35,780,085
Missouri $241,231,670 $250,888,743 $21,701,176 $212,771,283 $283,487
North Carolina $335,015,340 $359,590,510 $84,012,701 $259,595,826 $0
Oklahoma $145,281,442 $207,089,301 $43,584,432 $111,056,589 $0
South Carolina $111,104,406 $147,224,074 $0 $122,757,736 $0
Tennessee $212,859,869 $365,938,154 $8,397,592 $114,712,299 $242,828,263
Texas $540,426,574 $729,148,942 $33,573,455 $570,787,223 $2
Virginia $158,285,172 $212,563,684 $31,863,229 $102,506,515 $78,114,271
West Virginia $110,176,310 $113,900,481 $11,017,631 $80,528,662 $22,354,188
State TANF Block Grant Total Federal Funds
FY 2016 Grant + carryover from previous fiscal years
Transferred
Child Care Development Fund and/or Social Services Block Grant
Total Federal Expenditures Remaining Balance
Final year-end amount remaining after expenditures and other obligations are met
Alabama $102,479,587 $155,563,280 $27,994,561 $55,631,966 $60,686,753
Arkansas $62,304,527 $106,588,451 $0 $54,459,225 $17,521,297
Florida $562,340,120 $647,907,889 $166,896,032 $425,840,909 $55,170,948
Georgia $330,741,739 $372,842,732 $5,881,073 $316,263,869 $12,760,273
Kentucky $181,287,669 $211,515,772 $0 $145,557,582 $65,958,190
Louisiana $163,971,985 $176,921,939 $16,397,198 $160,524,741 $0
Mississippi $86,767,578 $122,547,664 $26,030,273 $49,844,769 $46,672,622
Missouri $217,051,740 $233,468,024 $21,701,176 $211,483,361 $0
North Carolina $331,038,598 $347,020,582 $61,997,387 $230,906,963 $19,903,782
Oklahoma $145,281,442 $197,729,722 $43,584,432 $108,557,408 $0
South Carolina $109,785,546 $134,251,884 $0 $134,251,884 $0
Tennessee $210,333,124 $453,161,387 $15,778 $66,356,006 $386,789,603
Texas $534,011,457 $627,488,762 $34,561,464 $437,977,937 $0
Virginia $158,285,172 $236,479,112 $32,666,186 $100,511,302 $102,857,463
West Virginia $110,176,310 $132,530,498 $11,017,631 $68,967,869 $52,544,998
State TANF Block Grant Total Federal Funds
FY 2017 Grant + carryover from previous fiscal years
Transferred
Child Care Development Fund and/or Social Services Block Grant
Total Federal Expenditures Remaining Balance
Final year-end amount remaining after expenditures and other obligations are met
Alabama $102,883,861 $174,820,614 $9,300,726 $91,343,581 $55,175,838
Arkansas $62,550,318 $114,679,544 $0 $50,006,492 $31,928,617
Florida $560,484,398 $573,931,337 $166,339,316 $390,471,734 $0
Georgia $329,650,291 $380,348,081 $2,625,206 $313,030,315 $40,890,044
Kentucky $180,689,420 $246,647,610 $0 $180,149,852 $66,497,758
Louisiana $163,377,090 $163,377,090 $16,337,709 $139,089,468 $0
Mississippi $86,481,245 $133,153,867 $14,513,775 $83,633,112 $35,006,980
Missouri $216,335,469 $216,618,956 $21,633,546 $194,701,923 $283,487
North Carolina $332,341,882 $366,104,332 $85,467,773 $238,945,489 $0
Oklahoma $144,792,997 $190,380,879 $36,946,707 $77,150,590 $0
South Carolina $110,218,646 $110,218,646 $0 $110,218,646 $0
Tennessee $190,891,768 $577,456,016 $0 $66,663,517 $510,792,499
Texas $536,118,118 $729,355,256 $34,964,711 $469,334,497 $9,506,845
Virginia $157,762,831 $261,064,455 $26,713,131 $104,373,070 $121,984,621
West Virginia $109,812,728 $162,357,726 $10,981,273 $94,000,502 $57,375,951
State TANF Block Grant Total Federal Funds
FY 2018 Grant + carryover from previous fiscal years
Transferred
Child Care Development Fund and/or Social Services Block Grant
Total Federal Expenditures Remaining Balance
Final year-end amount remaining after expenditures and other obligations are met
Alabama $103,359,371 $177,535,678 $9,300,727 $81,831,548 $86,403,403
Arkansas $62,839,408 $127,512,460 $0 $53,720,253 $53,371,442
Florida $560,484,398 $577,604,685 $166,339,316 $395,352,506 $0
Georgia $329,650,291 $394,342,851 $1,182,112 $315,595,540 $66,827,810
Kentucky $180,689,420 $247,187,178 $0 $183,403,783 $63,783,395
Louisiana $163,430,877 $171,380,790 $16,343,088 $145,536,359 $0
Mississippi $86,481,245 $121,488,225 $8,648,125 $104,424,460 $8,415,640
Missouri $240,414,527 $240,414,527 $16,315,900 $218,780,981 $5,317,646
North Carolina $333,877,615 $375,568,685 $84,611,995 $239,828,282 $0
Oklahoma $144,792,997 $221,076,579 $38,479,300 $48,102,625 $0
South Carolina $110,728,055 $110,728,055 $0 $110,728,055 $0
Tennessee $190,891,768 $591,701,473 $0 $20,982,584 $570,718,889
Texas $538,595,947 $793,174,150 $31,267,821 $433,523,398 $123,458,777
Virginia $157,762,831 $287,741,085 $31,133,495 $115,733,001 $133,929,604
West Virginia $109,812,728 $167,188,679 $10,981,272 $81,646,001 $74,561,406

Source: Office of Family Assistance, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ofa/programs/tanf/data-reports.


1 TANF Statute, Social Security Act, Title IV, accessed January 7, 2020, https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/ssact/title04/0401.htm.  

2 Congressional Research Services, accessed December 17, 2019, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL32748.pdf.

3 Office of Family Assistance, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, accessed December 19, 2019, https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ofa/programs/tanf/data-reports.

4 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, accessed January 7, 2020, https://www.cbpp.org/research/family-income-support/policy-basics-an-introduction-to-tanf.

5 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, accessed December 19, 2019, https://www.cbpp.org/research/family-income-support/how-states-use-funds-under-the-tanf-block-grant.

6 Office of Family Assistance, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.