image Visit coronavirus.govVisit disclaimer page for the latest Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) updates.
View ACF COVID-19 Responses and Resources
< Back to Search

TANF-ACF-IM-2004-02 (General Policy Guidance on How Federal TANF and State Maintenance-of-Effort (MOE) Funds Can Be Used to Help States, Tribes and Territories Implement Healthy Marriage Activities)

Published: September 30, 2004
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
Maintenance of Effort (MOE), TANF Guidance, TANF Guidance
Information Memoranda (IM)
Healthy Marriage Initiative, State Maintenance-of-Effort (MOE)


State, Tribal and Territory Agencies Administering the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF) and Other Interested Parties


General policy guidance on how Federal TANF and State maintenance-of-effort (MOE) funds can be used to help States, Tribes and Territories implement healthy marriage activities.


Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 (Pub. L. 104-193), Section 401 of the Social Security Act (Act), 45 CFR 260.20, 45 CFR 263 subparts A and B.


The four purposes of the TANF program as described in section 401 of the Social Security Act and 45 CFR 260.20 of the TANF regulations are as follows:

  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; and
  4. encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

Prior to TANF, disincentives to marriage were inherent to existing welfare rules.  Since TANF's passage, States, Tribes and Territories have the flexibility to implement creative and innovative programs that support the formation and maintenance of two-parent married families.  When Congress enacted PRWORA and established the TANF program, States were given the authority to provide marriage support services as an acknowledgement that two-parent households are the most effective environment for raising children.  While States, Tribes and Territories have made significant progress in moving families from welfare to work since the passage of PRWORA, more can be done to address the family strengthening and family reunification goals of TANF.


To provide policy guidance on the use of Federal TANF and State MOE funds to support healthy marriage activities and to clarify that activities supporting healthy marriage are reasonably calculated to meet a TANF purpose.  We also present examples of marriage activities that some States have adopted to address healthy marriage.


Healthy marriages are vitally important to the long term well-being of children. Beyond the economic advantages important for supporting children, the experiences and examples shown to children being raised by parents who enjoy a loving and long-term commitment yields tremendous developmental benefits for children.  Forming and sustaining a happy and healthy marriage requires, in part, good fortune and, in larger part, parents possessing the knowledge and commitment to exercise healthy relationship skills that form the basis of healthy marriages.

TANF programs typically help client families address a wide range of serious life problems -from poor workforce skills, to depression, to substance abuse - so that these families can become stronger, more self-sufficient, and more stable environments in which to raise their children.  An important part of the services that TANF agencies should provide include education and skill building services that could help current and future parents, on a voluntary basis, acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to form and sustain healthy marriages.

State, Tribal and Territory TANF agencies have the authority under the Act to implement healthy marriage activities.  Under purposes two and four of section 401 of the Act, Congress granted agencies administering TANF programs the ability to offer healthy marriage support services to help clients that want healthy marriage education and related activities.  The flexibility of the legislation also gives States, Tribes and Territories and their providers the opportunity to provide these services to a broad population.

A State, Tribe or Territory that wants to provide these services simply needs to be mindful that activities implemented under purposes one and two must serve clients that have been determined financially needy according to the State’s applicable income and/or resource criteria.  Eligibility criteria are established by the State, Tribe or Territory and documented in its TANF Plan. Under purposes three and four, agencies have flexibility to serve the non-needy and can implement healthy marriage activities on a broader scope to serve more of the general population.  Under these purposes, TANF agencies may even use segregated Federal TANF funds (but not MOE funds) to help clients who are not financially needy with benefits and services, as long as the activity does not constitute assistance, as defined in 45 CFR 260.31(a).

Possible Types of Services

Federal TANF and State MOE funds can be used to promote awareness of the importance of healthy marriages and to support education and skills building services that could enhance the health and stability of marriages.  Programs and activities that could be supported could include:

  1. Public advertising campaigns on the value of healthy marriages and on the skills necessary to building marital stability and health;
  2. Education curriculums and programs for students, young adults, and individuals on the characteristics of healthy relationships and intimate romantic relationships - how they are formed, nurtured, and grow; how they differ over time with age and maturity; and the differences between casual relationships, friendships, dating, and marriage;
  3. Marriage and pre-marital education and relationship enhancement skills programs for married couples, engaged couples and couples considering marriage.
  4. Marriage and family skills enhancement programs that help expectant parents and parents recently giving birth to understand the importance of healthy marriages to children and how they can better nurture their marriage while raising their children.
  5. Marriage enhancement and skills training for married couples.
  6. Marriage mentoring programs that use married couples as role models and mentors.
  7. Program reforms that reduce disincentives to marriage.

Participation in programs and activities described above should be voluntary and oriented toward improving the awareness, knowledge, and skills of those considering, or potentially considering marriage.

States, Tribes, and Territories that want to implement a healthy marriage program or activity, such as those described above, should design initiatives carefully, thinking through proposed programs’ specific objectives, intended service populations, and methods of recruiting participants, service delivery, and post service evaluations.  TANF provides great flexibility regarding how such initiatives can be organized and operated, but carefully considering each aspect of a program’s design will do much to make an initiative effective.

It is strongly recommended that interested States, Tribes, and Territories consult with experts in domestic violence or with relevant community domestic violence coalitions as they design initiatives.  Such expertise is very important in helping program designers understand the special circumstances pertaining to domestic violence within marital and non-marital relationships and how an initiative could be designed to reduce risks and improve services to those who are potential victims.


The following examples show how some States are currently using TANF funds to support healthy marriage activities.  These examples are by no means exhaustive. They are merely presented to help other agencies envision how they might incorporate a healthy marriage component into their TANF program supports and services.  All of these examples can be funded with TANF funds and replicated or adapted under current law.

Since the inception of PRWORA, Oklahoma has capitalized on the flexibility of TANF funds by investing $10 million in the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI).  OMI was established under the third and fourth statutory purposes of TANF.  OMI currently delivers marriage and relationship training statewide through social service systems, educational systems and volunteer organizations.  Participants access training in diverse settings such as workforce development classes, high schools, military bases, prisons, first time offender programs, churches, universities and many more.  In 2003, Oklahoma reported that 938 workshops were conducted, serving 1,250 participants and training 1,200 individuals to provide future workshops.  For additional information on Oklahoma’s Marriage Initiative please go online.

Some States have adopted approaches with a more specific focus.  For example, in 2002-2003, the Louisiana legislature authorized TANF funding under purposes three and four to support the State Healthy Marriage and Strengthening Families Initiative.  The State has taken a special interest in assisting low-income, never married parents and their children.  With TANF funds, they conducted research on 2,000 parents identified through the Food Stamp caseload, interviewing them 2-5 months after the birth of their child.  Based upon their research, a healthy marriage and relationship curriculum and handbooks have been developed. Since African-Americans made up more than 80 percent of the sample, the curriculum “Exploring Marriage and Relationships” was created specifically to help low-income, unmarried African American couples and individual mothers and fathers explore issues of marriage and develop healthy relationship skills.  The curriculum is designed to be administered by faith-based, community or other organizations located within low-income communities.  For additional information on Louisiana’s Healthy Marriage and Strengthening Families Initiative please go online.

While remaining locally relevant and unique, the State of Virginia has taken another innovative approach, incorporating a healthy marriage component into an already existing program that provides services for at-risk youth.  The Right Choices for Youth, Mentoring and Fatherhood Program (RCYF), implemented under TANF, includes promotion and enhancement of marriage and the marital relationship as a major focus of its program curriculum.  RCYF also focuses on strengthening parent-child communications, promoting responsible fatherhood and developing parenting skills.

In Colorado, the Strengthening Families Initiative; helps communities throughout the State connect with resources, information and services to strengthen and empower families.  The initiative focuses on sharing information on what works and building successful approaches in the areas of economic independence, infant and child development, parenting, positive youth development and healthy marriage.  The initiative recently incorporated the healthy marriage component to help local governments and community organizations connect with resources and information needed to support healthy marriages.  Colorado’s Healthy Marriage Program was developed and supported by over forty agencies statewide, including the Colorado Office of the Governor, Colorado Department of Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (ACF) Denver Regional Office, Colorado Department of Child Support Enforcement and many other State, local and faith-based organizations.  The Healthy Marriage Program is coordinated and governed by a multi-agency coalition that works to provide information on marriage education programs and recommends approaches and strategies to support healthy marriage activities.  The Healthy Marriage Program’s resource website went live September 2004. For additional information on Colorado’s Healthy Marriage Program go online.

In January 2004, eleven California counties in the greater San Francisco Bay area convened a Healthy Marriage Forum in conjunction with the ACF Welfare Peer Technical Assistance Network.  The Workshop highlighted promising practices and model programs used to build and sustain healthy marriages.  The Forum helped inform area planning efforts focused on how to most effectively integrate strategies that support healthy marriages into local service programs.

If a State, Tribe or Territory is interested in technical assistance on how to build a healthy marriage initiative, please contact the Welfare Peer Technical Assistance Network at:


Inquiries should be addressed to the appropriate ACF Regional Administrator or Family Life and Marriage Specialist.


Andrew S. Bush 
Office of Family Assistance

Last Reviewed: May 20, 2019