The Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program — originally named the Aid to Dependent Children program — was established by the Social Security Act of 1935 as a grant program to enable states to provide cash welfare payments for needy children who had been deprived of parental support or care because their fathers or mothers were absent from the home, incapacitated, deceased, or unemployed. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands operated an AFDC program. States defined “need,” set their own benefit levels, established (within federal limitations) income and resource limits, and administered the program or supervised its administration. States were entitled to unlimited federal funds for reimbursement of benefit payments, at “matching” rates that were inversely related to state per capita income. States were required to provide aid to all persons who were in classes eligible under federal law and whose income and resources were within state-set limits.
During the 1990s, the federal government increasingly used its authority under section 1115 of the Social Security Act to waive portions of the federal requirements under AFDC. This allowed states to test such changes as expanded earned income disregards, family caps, education and adult oversight requirements for underage single mothers, increased work requirements and stronger sanctions for failure to comply with them, time limits on benefits, and expanded access to transitional benefits such as child care and medical assistance. As a condition of receiving waivers, states were required to conduct rigorous evaluations of the impacts of these changes on the welfare receipt, employment, and earnings of participants.
Public Law 104-193, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), replaced AFDC, AFDC administration, the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training (JOBS) program and the Emergency Assistance (EA) program with a block grant called the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Key elements of TANF include a lifetime limit of five years (60 months)24 on the amount of time a family with an adult can receive assistance funded with federal funds, work participation rate requirements that states must meet, and broad state flexibility on program design. Spending through the TANF block grant is capped and funded at $16.5 billion per year, States also must meet a “maintenance of effort (MOE) requirement” by spending on needy families at least 75 percent of the amount of state funds used in FY 1994 on these programs (80 percent if they fail work participation rate requirements).
TANF gives states wide latitude in spending both federal TANF funds and state MOE funds. Without any federal limitations, each state has the flexibility to define “need”, set their own benefit levels, determine who is a member of the assistance unit, and establish income and resource limits for all benefits and services allowable under TANF (including cash assistance). TANF funds may be used in any way that supports one of the four statutory purposes of TANF: to provide assistance to needy families so that children can be cared for at home; to end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work and marriage; to prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies; and to encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.
24 However, some states also use the 20 percent hardship exemption or state funds to provide continued assistance for some families that reach the 60-month time limit.