The President’s Fiscal Year 2017 Budget: Strengthening the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program

March 18, 2016 by Jake M.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program offers $17.3 billion each year to states, territories, and eligible tribes to assist low-income families and help improve employment among many other positive outcomes. Next year, the President’s FY (Fiscal Year) 2017 Budget includes $10 billion in new funding over the time span of five years along with several proposals that are designed to strengthen the TANF program, provide states with additional resources — come economic downturns, and give assistance to families in building economic security.

With Great Increased Resources, Comes Great Accountability

TANF has been around nearly 20 years, and in that time, the value of the TANF block grant has deteriorated about one-third, due to inflation.

To begin to even address this, the FY 2017 budget would increase the family assistance grants by $8 billion over the span of five years, initiating $750 million in FY 2017, then increasing $2.25 billion by FY 2021. A state’s grant would equal out to the amount it received in FY 2016 with the addition of its share of the amount of funding above the FY 2016 funding level. This will be distributed in accordance to a new formula; for example, the population number of poor children per state.

The basic MOE requirement due to each state would also increase by the same percentage as the block grant’s increase. With these additional funds, there will be increased attention and accountability towards the families in need from the state’s platform.

Focusing Once Again on Economic Stability and Employment

Take a look at the map below. 23 states spent less than half of their TANF and MOE funds on the combo of basic assistance, work-related activities, and child care in FY 2014. What does that enable those in need to do? It shows there is more help available than people use for their benefit.

The figure shows how the national distribution of funds was organized in FY 2014. Just under half (49%) of the $31.9 billion in federal TANF and state MOE funds were spent on basic assistance, work-related activities, and child care.

Essentially, the FY 2017 budget would require states to use an amount equivalent to 55% of their TANF state family assistance grants (SFAG) and basic MOE amounts on the core benefits and services of TANF: basic assistance, child care, and work related activities for needy families. The share required would also increase to 60% in FY 2021 and states will also receive additional block grant funding over the 5-year time period.

According to the proposal, states will be required to invest in the key benefits and services that help families towards better economic security meanwhile maintaining their own state’s flexibility.

The budget suggests that the TANF be revised in order to better establish a greater sense of accountability, in which states would be measured and held accountable for fortifying their performance in helping needy families obtain jobs, sustain their employment, and grow in the labor force. States need also to be aware of developing special approaches to work with families under more severe circumstances holding them back from employment, and to better coordinate TANF with other state workforce efforts under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

Child and Family Poverty: Plan of Action

It is important that the TANF and MOE funds be better targeted to needy families and used for core benefits and services. Therefore the budget will ensure this by:

  • Requiring all TANF and MOE funds be used for needy families, which defined is families with incomes of 200% of the Federal Poverty Level or lower.

  • Adding a new purpose for TANF to reduce child poverty.

  • Directing the U.S Dept. Of Health and Human Services (HSS) to publish national and state rules related to this new cause and authorize the HHS to collect the needed data which would prohibit counting non-governmental third-party expenditures in meeting state MOE requirement through TANF.

Regarding children in the poverty levels, numbers have fluctuated over the last 30 years and increased more so during the great recession we faced. The number of children receiving cash assistance has declined since TANF replaced Aid to Family with Dependent Children (AFDC) and it has not responded to economic points of downturn. Focusing now again on sending TANF funds to needy families and reducing the amount of children in poverty, the budget allows improvement to meet the needs of these low-income families that have children.

In the graph below, it shows the share of eligible families receiving AFDC/TANF between the years 1994 and 2012.

The need is there and the share of eligible families receiving AFDC/TANF cash assistance declined, as you can see, 79% in 1996 to 32% in 2012. The budget proposals are targeted to serve these families, since less than one-third of eligible families are actually receiving cash assistance from TANF.

Construction of Evidence and Supporting the Innovation

FY 2017 also presents the proposal of these items:

  • By strengthening TANF for use as a safety net during economic downturns with the new TANF Economic Response Fund, which is modeled after the effective American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) TANF Emergency Fund created during the Great Recession.

  • “$2 billion over 5 years would be allocated based on a more effective trigger to provide targeted countercyclical funding for states to invest in efforts that address the needs of families during economic downturns. Allowable uses would be limited to those that were permitted under the ARRA TANF Emergency Fund: basic assistance, subsidized employment, and non-recurrent short-term benefits.”

  • “Repurposing the current $608 million TANF Contingency Fund to support innovation, research, and oversight through:     

    • The Pathways to Jobs initiative ($473 million) to support state and tribal efforts to provide work opportunities to low-income families through subsidized employment.

    • Two-Generation Demonstration projects ($100 million) for competitive grants to states and tribes for coordinated efforts that focus simultaneously on parental employment outcomes and child and family well-being outcomes. Welfare Research and the Survey of Income and Program Participation ($25 million).

    • Program improvement initiatives ($10 million) such as technical assistance, monitoring, research, and evaluation.”

If you are in need or your family might be experiencing relevant circumstances, check with your state’s programs and more than likely, there is help available.

More details on the FY 2017 Budget available at

For more information regarding government assistance and housing programs, visit and