Graphical Overview of State TANF Policies as of July 2018

Publication Date: September 3, 2020
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Introduction

Research Questions

  1. How do TANF policies vary across states?

If a family needs help covering their expenses during a period of financial hardship, will they qualify for temporary cash assistance? If so, how much assistance can they receive each month, and for how long can they receive it? The answers to these questions depend not only on the family’s circumstances but also on where they live.

The primary program that provides cash aid to needy families is called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF. TANF is a block grant, meaning the federal government provides each state with a set amount of money that the state combines with its own funding to meet the program’s goals. Each state sets its own policies for exactly who can get help, how much they can receive, and for how long. These policies can vary greatly across states.

This brief provides a graphical overview of some of the TANF policy differences across states. It includes information about initial eligibility, benefit amounts, work and activity requirements, and ongoing eligibility and time limits.

Purpose

The Welfare Rules Database tracks state policies over time, from 1996 to the present. The database includes hundreds of variables related to initial eligibility, benefit amounts, work and activity requirements, and ongoing eligibility and time limits. This brief is a companion to the 2018 Welfare Rules Databook and provides a graphical overview of some of the policy differences across states.

Key Findings and Highlights

Key findings for state TANF policies in 2018 include:

  • The maximum monthly earnings that a family of three could have and still be initially eligible for TANF ranged from $268 in Alabama to $2,227 in Minnesota.
  • Seventeen states required that unemployed applicants search for a job as a condition of application.
  • The maximum monthly benefit for a single-parent family with two children and no income who lives in the most populous area of the state ranged from $170 in Mississippi to $1,039 in New Hampshire.
  • Twenty-three states provided cash assistance for periods ranging from 1 to 24 months to families transitioning off TANF.

Methods

The policies discussed in this brief are a small subset of the policies available from the Welfare Rules Database. The database tracks TANF policies for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Data are collected primarily from the caseworker manuals and documents used to administer the TANF program in each state.  State administrators are also asked to review a subset of the policies annually to ensure accuracy of the data collection and coding.

Citation

Minton, Sarah and Linda Giannarelli (2020). A Graphical Overview of State TANF Policies as of July 2018. OPRE Report 2020-121, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Glossary

TANF:
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
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