Status of Research on the Outcomes of Welfare Reform, 2000. Understanding the AFDC/TANF Child-Only Caseload


In 1999, 29 percent of TANF cases were child-only families in which only children received the benefits. We know from earlier data (1998) that in about 40 percent of these families the children are living with adult relatives who are not their parents (and benefits are paid only on behalf of the children under their care), while in the remaining 60 percent of the cases, parents are in the household, but ineligible for benefits for reasons such as sanctions, immigration status, or receipt of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Before the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) was enacted, the numbers of child-only cases had been increasing steadily. Since then, the absolute numbers of such cases have declined, although the latest 1999 TANF caseload data show an increase in numbers over the previous year. As a proportion of the total TANF caseload, child-only cases have increased steadily. Unlike other TANF cases, child-only cases are exempt from many of the major requirements of the program, including time limits and work requirements, and the children in these families are likely to remain dependent on TANF for longer periods of time than other families.

In 1998, ASPE contracted with The Lewin Group to analyze national trends on child-only cases and, because the prevalence of child-only cases varies widely among states, to look at local characteristics and program practices in three states - California, Florida, and Missouri - and three counties in these states. The study obtained more detailed information about the characteristics of child-only families from administrative data and case files. State and county-level policy staff and caseworkers were interviewed to examine policy and programmatic issues.

The study found varying policy choices being made about sanctions, treatment of aliens, treatment of relative caregivers and treatment of SSI income. Although these policies affect child-only cases, the effects are not often considered in local decision making processes.

Most (two-thirds) non-parental caregivers were grandmothers, and they were substantially older than adults in regular TANF cases. The average age of non-parental caregivers in the three counties visited was 53. Non-parental cases have relatively higher incomes than parental child-only cases, but over a third of the non-parental cases qualified for food stamps. The primary reasons that children come to reside with non-parental caregivers are desertion, substance abuse, incarceration, child abuse and neglect. The report, Understanding the AFDC/TANF Child-Only Caseload: Policies, Composition, and Characteristics in Three States, <

One of the findings from the Lewin study was that all three states have created alternative programs for relative caregiver families that offer higher payments than TANF programs and have additional requirements for eligibility. These programs generally have less stringent eligibility requirements than foster care. To examine this issue further, ASPE has funded a follow-up project in FY 2000 to identify the types of alternative kinship care programs states have designed to serve relative caregivers outside of the traditional foster care or TANF systems.