Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)—commonly referred to as “welfare” – provides monthly cash benefits to very poor families. One of the main goals of TANF is to transition adult recipients to employment, but those who exit welfare typically earn poverty-level wages – that is, less than $9 or $10 an hour.
The federal government sets the program’s basic rules, but states set income eligibility limits and benefit levels. More than a third of the states have income limits of less than half the federal poverty level. Although benefit levels vary considerably, a single-parent family of three typically receives only a couple hundred dollars a month.
In 1996, welfare reform dramatically altered the rules for receiving assistance. Since then, caseloads have been cut by two-thirds. Only a quarter of poor children – about 3.3 million – benefit from TANF, even though the number of children living in poverty has increased by 39 percent since 2000. More children benefit from Social Security than from TANF.
Protecting the Safety Net in Tough Times
Lessons from the States
Report, April 2012
Improving Work Supports
Closing the Financial Gap for Low-Wage Workers and Their Families
Report, October 2007
Looking Forward, Looking Back
Reflections on the 10th Anniversary of Welfare Reform
Opinion, August 2006
When Work Doesn’t Pay
What Every Policymaker Should Know
Brief, June 2006
Federal Policies Restrict Immigrant Children’s Access to Key Public Benefits
Brief, October 2005