Center for American Progress

RELEASE: The TANF Program Is Key to Supporting Families During COVID-19 Crisis
Press Release

Washington, D.C. — A new series of issue briefs from the Center for American Progress will look at the importance of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in fighting poverty during the COVID-19 emergency and afterwards. The first brief, released today, explores the lessons from the expansion of TANF during the Great Recession and how Congress can reconfigure and expand the program today to better assist families in or at risk of poverty, particularly during the COVID-19 crisis. The brief argues that TANF can be a much-needed supplement for many families when other programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and unemployment insurance are insufficient to meet families’ needs.

Subsequent briefs will focus on steps that state and local governments can take to use TANF to fight hardship and how to strengthen TANF over the long term. Key recommendations for Congress from the first brief include:

  • Creating a new TANF Emergency Contingency Fund that prioritizes, expands, and boosts cash assistance.
  • Creating better incentives for states by suspending work participation rate requirements and updating the caseload reduction credit base year to encourage states to increase caseloads.
  • Broadening eligibility for TANF by basing eligibility on monthly or continuing income and increasing the income threshold; allowing childless adults to sign up, at least during the crisis; suspending all work and work search requirements and sanctions; freezing lifetime use limits and recertification determinations; and considering other eligibility changes.
  • Helping states target money to their residents’ specific needs by making nonrecurrent short-term benefits last more than four months and including subsidized job programs without a specified end date.

“TANF can be an efficient way to get aid to families in need,” said Justin Schweitzer, author of the brief. “However, as it’s currently constructed, it doesn’t have enough money or the proper incentive structures for states to meet peoples’ dramatically increased need during the pandemic. Congress should act now to strengthen TANF and help families through this public health and economic crisis.”

Read the brief: “TANF Is a Key Part of the Mix of Aid Programs Supporting Families During COVID-19 Crisis” by Justin Schweitzer.

For more information or to speak to an expert, contact Julia Cusick at [email protected].