Examining States' Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Open Access
Downloadable ContentDownload PDF
The replacement of Aid for Families with Dependent Children with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in 1996 revoked qualifying families' legal guarantee of cash assistance benefits and instituted a state-administered block grant program. Reflecting contemporary concerns over rising cash assistance caseloads and centralized government, TANF gives each state an annual block grant and the authority to allocate the funds in any way "reasonably calculated" to realize its statutory goals. States utilize this flexibility to fund a wide variety of programs in addition to cash assistance for needy families, including work supports, childcare assistance, pregnancy prevention initiatives, and refundable tax credits. Although consequential, little progress has been made in answering how states' allocations of their TANF block grants have changed over time and what political, economic, and social factors correlate with states' TANF expenditures. My research aims to further scholarship concerning both questions. Drawing on data published by the Administration for Children and Families, I created a database of every state's TANF expenditures in ten funding categories between fiscal years 1998 and 2013. To overcome significant methodological challenges in the data, I used funding categories developed by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and calculated three-year moving averages of the expenditures. Drawing on this database, I undertake a descriptive analysis of states' TANF spending. My findings indicate that over time, states shifted their expenditures away from cash assistance toward other sources, including pregnancy prevention initiatives and refundable tax credits. The reductions in cash assistance expenditures were dramatic: The median state spent 22% of its total TANF funds on cash assistance in fiscal year 2013, a decrease of 30% from fiscal year 1998. My descriptive study is the foundation for an analysis of what state-level factors, such as change in cash assistance caseload, partisan control of government, proportion of African Americans in the population, and proportion of Hispanics in the population correlate with states' TANF expenditures. Preliminary findings indicate that states diverted expenditures away from cash assistance as cash assistance caseloads decreased, implying a rational basis for reallocation. However, results also suggest strong and significant negative relationships between the proportions of African Americans and Hispanics in a state and cash assistance spending. If corroborated by further analysis, these findings would fit within broader themes in the welfare literature concerning the significance of race and ethnicity in United States' social policy.