Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program, a Government Assistance Program With a Purpose

What is TANF

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program – commonly called TANF – is a popular government assistance program designed to provide help to needy American families. The purpose of this program is to act as training wheels for the financially insecure until they are able to take care of themselves, at which time they will no longer need assistance. At its core, TANF promotes self-sufficiency.

A program with a purpose

TANF is not exclusively focused on financial issues. A primary concern of the program is the creation of healthy family units. Specifically, the four objectives of the program are to:

– Provide assistance to as many needy families as possible

– Promote employment and career readiness, eliminating the need for assistance



– Bring down the frequency of unmarried pregnancies, which cause serious financial hardship for mothers

– Encourage the formation and preservation of families with two parents

Participation in the TANF program requires cooperation with child support, cooperation with TANF’s work program, and compliance with employment/employment search conditions. That last stipulation could require a job seeker to spend up to thirty hours weekly hunting for employment.

F is for family

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program doesn’t just pay lip service to helping families. In fact, they rarely – if ever – concern themselves with assisting individuals.

Ultimately, the goal of TANF is to enable families to become entirely self-sufficient. This means that children grow up in a supportive and complete household with parents on whom they can depend on emotionally. It also means that one or both parents are able to contribute to the workforce and earn an income that allows the family unit to meet all basic needs, if not prosper.

One of the ways that TANF works to accomplish its goal is to provide parents with the means of obtaining childcare. When there is no one to watch your children and you cannot afford to pay someone else to do it, then it is almost impossible for you to work. TANF helps remove that obstacle.



How it works

Originating in 1996, the program took the place of certain welfare programs that were available to all low-income citizens, regardless of family status. It has changed in certain ways, but today the foundation of the program lies with grants. Annual grants offered to states and local governments are a way to pay for the benefits and services provided to that constituency’s needy family population.

The grants can only pay for programs approved by TANF, and so are usually used to support career training, family development, and familial independence from government assistance. Programs advocating marriage and job placement tend to be at the top of the list.

For specific families, financial assistance is usually available, but only on a temporary basis. The maximum time a family may receive funds – if approved for federal extensions – is five years. Grants and other indirect funding may be offered to families as well.

The long and the short of it

TANF is a short-term program designed not to pay bills indefinitely, but to help develop fully functional family units that can stand on their own, both in their personal and in their financial lives.

Visit your state’s website to learn more about TANF programs in your area.