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TANF Arrears Continue to Decline

October 18, 2019
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AUTHOR: ELAINE SORENSEN

Unpaid child support accumulates as arrears. In FY 2018, total arrears certified for the federal government's Federal Tax Refund Offset Program was $114.7 billion (FY 2018 Preliminary Data Report, Table P-89). Most arrears are owed to custodial families, but some are owed to the government. This is because when families apply for cash assistance from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, they are required to assign their child support to the government up to the amount of cash assistance provided to the family. If child support goes unpaid while the family receives TANF cash assistance, the arrears that accumulate are owed to the government and referred to as TANF arrears. In FY 2018, 21% or $24.3 billion of the total certified arrears were TANF arrears.

In an earlier brief (Major Change in Who is Owed Child Support Arrears), we showed that between 2003 and 2013 total arrears continued to increase, but TANF arrears peaked in February 2008 at $38 billion. Since then, TANF arrears have continued to decline, while total arrears have continued to increase. Between FY 2008 and FY 2018, TANF arrears declined by 32%, while total arrears increased by 14%.

In this blog, we examine how TANF arrears have changed over time by state. We find that since FY 2008 every state and jurisdiction has experienced a decline in the percent of their arrears that are TANF arrears except Puerto Rico, which experienced no change in this percentage. Several states reduced their TANF arrears significantly. In FY 2008, seven states had TANF arrears that represented more than half of their total arrears (Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Kansas, Maine, and Oregon). By FY 2018, only Arizona remained in this situation. At the other extreme, only Mississippi and Puerto Rico had TANF arrears of 10% or less of their total arrears in FY 2008, but by FY 2018 five states and two jurisdictions had TANF arrears of 10% or less of their total arrears (Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, Texas, and Virgin Islands).

California has the largest amount of TANF arrears among the states. In FY 2018, it had $7.1 billion of TANF arrears, representing 29% of the nation's TANF arrears. That year, TANF arrears represented 40% of California's total arrears, down from 51% in FY 2008.

Bar chart for blog on TANF Arrears decline

Last Reviewed: October 18, 2019

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