Approaches to Assisting Families Experiencing or At Risk of Homelessness with TANF Funds

Publication Date: October 15, 2021
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  • Published: 2021

Introduction

Research Questions

  1. What approaches are state and local TANF agencies using to provide housing and related assistance to families currently or at risk of experiencing homelessness?
  2. How are TANF agencies working Continuums of Care (CoCs) and local homeless providers?
  3. What other organizations are TANF agencies partnering with to provide housing and services to families currently or at risk of experiencing homelessness?

This brief details three approaches that TANF agencies may pursue to provide housing and related assistance to families experiencing homelessness:

  1. using TANF funds for temporary rental assistance;
  2. building partnerships with local organizations that plan and manage housing programs; and
  3. providing additional supportive services to families experiencing homelessness.

To illustrate each of these approaches, this brief uses examples from five communities that took part in a study for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). TANF agencies can use one of these approaches or combine them.

Purpose

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a cornerstone of America’s approach to supporting self-sufficiency. Because TANF is a federal block grant program, states have considerable discretion and flexibility in determining their policies, financing, and implementation approach. TANF is an important tool that states can leverage in connecting families experiencing homelessness to the services they need, including TANF-funded services such as cash assistance and childcare support, and more traditional housing supports such as rapid re-housing programs and subsidized housing.

This brief considers the extent to which TANF agencies across the country are using TANF funds to serve and support families experiencing or at-risk of homelessness. This information provides a better understanding of state TANF agencies’ overall philosophies and policies toward addressing family homelessness and the extent to which local TANF programs are implementing these policies.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • Some TANF agencies directly provide temporary rental assistance to families experiencing or at risk of homelessness, making cash payments to families to help pay their rent or to their landlords directly. Other TANF agencies provide funding to local homeless services organizations, sometimes braided with other federal, state, or local funding streams. The amount and duration of temporary rental assistance provided by TANF agencies vary.
  • TANF agencies that provide rental assistance can partner with local housing organizations who can provide guidance on how to structure and administer rental assistance. Three types of local housing organizations are public housing agencies (PHAs), Continuums of Care (CoCs), and local homeless services organizations.
  • TANF agencies may provide additional supportive services to help families remain successfully housed. This assistance could be in the form of financial assistance or through linking families to available community benefits. Typically, a TANF case manager serves as the central connection point for families, providing housing-focused case management, to coordinate internally with housing or employment-focused team members and externally with other service providers.

Methods

To understand state TANF agencies’ overall philosophies and policies toward addressing family homelessness and the extent to which local TANF programs are implementing these policies, the Abt team conducted a scan of TANF agency practices in 2018 and 2019. The scan included a systematic document review of 25 state TANF plans and an online survey of all state TANF administrators and a sample of three local TANF administrators in each state.

The Abt team also completed five site visits to provide more detailed, in-depth information about how TANF programs use TANF and MOE funds to assist families experiencing or at risk of homelessness. In November 2018, the Abt team conducted a pilot site visit to Mercer County, New Jersey. In September and October 2020, the Abt team completed virtual site visits with four additional communities: Boulder County, Colorado; Nashville, Tennessee; Atlanta, Georgia; and Shasta County, California.

Citation

Dunton, Lauren, and Cara Sierks (2021). Approaches to Assisting Families Experiencing or At Risk of Homelessness with TANF Funds, OPRE Report #2021-192, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Glossary

HUD:
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
CoC:
Continuum of Care
TANF:
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
PHA:
Public Housing Agency