How Has the TANF Caseload Changed over Time?

Publication Date: March 15, 2012


Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) caseloads have plummeted since the program was enacted in 1996. This brief summarizes changes to the caseload during this period of decline and explores factors that have contributed to caseload change.

While the demographic characteristics of adults receiving benefits have been similar over time, the caseload has shifted, with the percentage of “child-only” cases rising to about 50 percent, while the percentage of single-parent and two-parent cases has fallen.

Factors such as the economy and the earned income tax credit (EITC) played a key role in caseload decline, but TANF policy has had a substantial impact. Specific TANF policies such as financial incentives, sanctions, and time limits help explain changes in case-load exits and entries and overall caseload size. Variation in state TANF policies and other state characteristics contribute to wide differences in program outcomes across the country.

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