Welfare Rules Databook: State TANF Policies as of July 2019

Publication Date: January 6, 2021
Cover of 2019 Welfare Rules Databook

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  • Pages: 314
  • Published: 2021


Research Questions

  1. What are the eligibility requirements for families?
  2. How are TANF benefits calculated and administered?
  3. What activities are required to become and remain eligible for assistance?
  4. What ongoing eligibility tests are applied, and can families receive assistance when they transition off of TANF?
  5. How have state policies changed over time?

The primary program that provides cash aid to families in financial need 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 report describes the ways in which policies vary within the context of the federal program requirements, and includes dozens of detailed tables showing each state’s policy choices.


The Welfare Rules Database tracks state TANF 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. The database is funded by the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) and maintained by the Urban Institute. This report provides dozens of tables detailing selected state policies for 2019.

Key Findings and Highlights

Key findings for state TANF policies in July 2019 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 $2,231 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 living in the most populous area of the state ranged from $170 in Mississippi to $1,066 in New Hampshire.
  • Thirteen states have a family cap policy. For the states with family cap policies, ten states do not increase the cash benefit for an additional child born to the unit. Three states do increase the benefit, but at less than the normal increment.
  • Forty states require single-parent unit heads to work a minimum of 30 hours per week.
  • Twenty-five states provided cash assistance for periods ranging from 1 to 24 months to families transitioning off TANF.


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. Each year, the project produces a set of tables containing selected policies from the database. The tables are then reviewed by state administrators and verified for accuracy. The final tables are included in an annual report, with the current report showing the policies in effect on July 1, 2019. The full database containing all of the variables and longitudinal details is also made available for public use at https://wrd.urban.org Visit disclaimer page .

Related Documents

File Type File Name File Size
PDF Graphical Overview of State TANF Policies as of July 2019 1,412.89 KB


Shantz, Katie, Ilham Dehry, Sarah Knowles, Sarah Minton, and Linda Giannarelli (2020). Welfare Rules Databook: State TANF Policies as of July 2019, OPRE Report 2020-141, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Temporary Assistance for Needy Families