Temporary Aid to Needy Families


Racial disparities remain a topical issue in the United States, despite recent efforts aimed at equality. This problem is systemic, and its development is observed across history. Accordingly, structural racism affects many people, but families in need, especially their children, are particularly vulnerable. The institute of welfare is widely discussed in the United States, supported by corresponding legislative acts. Current welfare policies are regulated by the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) program. While TANF aims at providing the less fortunate households with necessary sustenance and security, the way it is currently distributed reflects systemic racial disparities within society. The purpose of this paper is to examine TANF in the context of its historical development, effectiveness, and ethics, discerning racial tendencies in child welfare distribution.

Development of TANF

The Temporary Aid to Needy Families blocks grant shares its predecessors’ purpose while being different from previous welfare programs in details. In the United States of America, many families live beyond poverty for a variety of reasons. As of 2018, the official poverty rate in this country attained 11.8 percent (Semega et al., 2020). However, the number is greater for underage children, as over 16 percent of them face poverty (Semega et al., 2020). Therefore, people living in such difficult conditions struggle to access the necessities of a modern person, which comprises housing, transportation, and daily commodities. As a result, people experience serious challenges, and the problems become more acute when a family has children. In this case, while poverty is detrimental for adults, children are particularly vulnerable to their detrimental aspects. Wolf et al. (2017) report that school students who live in poverty demonstrate significantly poorer academic performance than their affluent peers and the gap remains on the increase. Accordingly, as the purpose of the government is to ensure sustained development and quality of living of all citizens, it had to address the issue.

Overall, TANF serves as a natural development of the idea of welfare introduced previously while reflecting the necessities of the present. The policy has been in effect for over two decades, receiving regular extensions and additional funding (“The temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) block grant: A legislative history,” 2020). TANF is regularly discussed during Congress sessions in terms of its extensions, and the policy continues to play a pivotal role in the country’s social security. Most of these extensions keep the content of TANF intact, but there have been several amendments ensuring proper utilization of funds by the recipients of the program. For example, The Middle-Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 prohibits cash withdrawal at clubs, liquor stores, and casinos for welfare recipients (“TANF block grant: A legislative history,” 2020). The development of TANF is a continuous process, which adapts to the new challenges and aims at ensuring fair utilization of its funds.

TANF and its Historical Background

TANF has become the contemporary policy regulating welfare distribution in the United States. From a historical standpoint, the Social Security Act of 1935 became the first piece of legislation in this area with its Aid to Dependent Children section (“TANF block grant: A legislative history,” 2020). Over the following years, there have been several Acts regulating welfare requirements and allocation in the United States, and TANF became their logical development in 1996 (“TANF block grant: A legislative history,” 2020). During this period, the country has experienced many crises, leaving millions of people in poverty, and the purpose of welfare was to mitigate these dire consequences. The legislation was continuously perfected, and its numerous aspects were amended. By the 1990s, the government noticed that many state fund recipients relied on welfare as a constant source of income, refusing to work. TANF was supposed to provide people incentives to find jobs, and the temporary nature of the assistance is reflected in its name. Therefore, this policy became the embodiment of historical processes, which surrounded its predecessors.

TANF has always used the positive experience of prior legislation while accumulating its aspects, which reflect the present state of the problem. TANF has preserved its core principles, giving parents an incentive to work while making sure that the children have their needs met (“TANF block grant: A legislative history,” 2020). At the same time, the program has been an integral component of the country’s policies across the 21st century, being adjusted to topical issues of the time. The economic crisis of 2008 became a major challenge for the United States, and TANF was one of the instruments, which supported the nation and its people. In 2009, in response to the new challenges and severe unemployment, Congress and President Obama introduced the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“TANF block grant: A legislative history,” 2020). This piece of legislation aimed at providing Americans with tax relief and unemployment insurance provisions through extra federal program funding and five billion dollars were allocated to TANF. Simultaneously, recent updates improve the distribution of TANF during the coronavirus pandemic (Shantz et al., 2020). This policy remains a flexible instrument, capable of adapting to current challenges.

TANF Goals and Means

The general purpose of the program is to cover the basic needs of less fortunate families while helping them become reintegrated into society and make their living. Children are the primary focus of this program, as they must receive adequate care and support for proper development. Pascoe et al. (2016) state that childhood poverty entails a range of adverse effects, which encompass the physical and mental health and translate into various adulthood issues. Nevertheless, the primary message of TANF is that parents must continue the search for jobs (“Temporary aid to needy families (TANF), n.d.). The policy does not encourage unemployment, as it simply serves to ensure the well-being of children while their parents rebuild their careers. Soffer-Elnekave et al. (2020) write about the pivotal role of mentoring child welfare-receiving parents, lowering their dependence on federal funds. Accordingly, TANF pursues a global objective, as it does not merely provide sustenance but promotes the autonomy and development of each needy family.

TANF Effectiveness and Its Target Population

American families in need constitute the target population of TANF and related policies. Statistical information shows that the majority of the aforementioned 11.8 percent of poor people are families of color (Semega et al., 2020). For example, the 2018 poverty rate was 20.8 percent for black people and 17.6 for those of Hispanic origin (Semega et al., 2020). Therefore, while, officially, there are no racial factors in TANF distribution, families of color represent its primary demographics, as per the statistical data. Consequently, such a tendency makes racial disparities in welfare distribution even more confusing. The Effectiveness of TANF programs has often been questioned by researchers in a variety of contexts. An and Choi (2019) studied the policy in relation to domestic violence and its victims, who deemed the program barely accessible and unhelpful. Booshehri et al. (2018) argue that TANF has had “limited success in building self-sufficiency, and rarely addresses exposure to trauma as a barrier to employment” (p. 1594). While the factors mentioned above are met in particular situations, the cited research confirms that TANF lacks flexibility in certain cases. As a result, the program’s effectiveness remains impaired.

TANF within an Ethical Framework

Generally, the target population of TANF is highly heterogeneous, as needy families come from different backgrounds, each demonstrating particular sets of values. Lee et al. (2020) state that the current welfare system and TANF, in particular, respond to the government’s concerns regarding certain social values. The list comprises such aspects as marriage, employment, and fertility, and TANF policies attempt to promote those values among American families in need. From an ethical standpoint, it encourages positive activities while ensuring proper care for children. Nevertheless, it is possible to say that TANF enforces certain aspects of its recipients.

An individual of the 21st century is eligible for their own opinion regarding official marriage, childbirth, and employment, which is why it may be unethical to impose contrasting views. In any case, the government provides funding for TANF, and, naturally, it utilizes the program to promote its values within society. As presented findings suggest, there are two versions of TANF. The first one exists on paper and reflects the ideal implementation of the program, whereas the second one represents how TANF welfare is utilized in reality. Consequently, it is difficult to say whether it adheres to the best practice standards. On the one hand, the theory states that this policy has become the ultimate manifestation of the government’s experience with welfare between 1935 and 1996. On the other hand, practical observations suggest that the current implementation of TANF is flawed, and it is affected by a range of issues, including systemic racism. Accordingly, it may benefit from considerate changes aimed at promoting modern values and ethical standards.

TANF Feasibility and Constraints

TANF appears to be a feasible project, and its concept has been under the government’s scrutiny, and the program funds consist of two parts. First, the federal government allocates the initial block grant to each state. Secondly, the states must add considerable funds to the needy family program from their respective budgets (“Temporary aid to needy families (TANF), n.d.). TANF encompasses a variety of spheres, which is why its financing is considerable, as well. In addition, states are allowed to extend the program beyond its initial framework if they think their communities will benefit from it (“Temporary aid to needy families (TANF), n.d.). Therefore, the program has the potential to have a positive social impact, reducing socioeconomic disparities and promoting sustainable personal development. Nevertheless, structural racism impacts the decision-making on the level of states’ administrations, contributing to the poverty of families of color (Parolin, 2019). In addition, lone mothers may find it difficult to balance the necessity to work and to care for their children, and TANF discourages incomplete families, as well. Therefore, instead of eliminating social disparities, it increases the pressure on particular social groups.

Summary and Conclusion

In conclusion, the Temporary Aid to Needy Families was developed to respond to new challenges. This program utilizes the experience of previous welfare initiatives, attempting to benefit both the recipients and the government. While the theoretical side of TANF appears to be feasible in terms of its economic and social aspects, the practical implementation of the program does not correspond with this vision. Systemic racial disparities affect the distribution of welfare, aggravating some issues instead of solving them, and structural changes are required to utilize the potential of this policy.


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Pascoe, J. M., Wood, D. L., Duffee, J. H., Kuo, A., Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, & Council on Community Pediatrics. (2016). Mediators and adverse effects of child Poverty in the United States. Pediatrics, 137(4).

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Shantz, K., Hahn, H., Nelson, M., Lyons, M., & Flagg, A. (2020). Changes in state TANF policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Soffer-Elnekave, R., Haight, W., & Jader, B. (2020). Parent mentoring relationships as a vehicle for reducing racial disparities: Experiences of child welfare-involved parents, mentors and professionals. Children and Youth Services Review, 109.

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