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The number of children receiving welfare benefits (cash assistance) in 2015 was less than one third of what it was in 1996, a year that saw major reforms to the welfare system. Correspondingly, the contribution these benefits provide to the safety net for low-income children has greatly declined.

Importance

In 1996, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program succeeded the Aid to Families with Dependent Children Program (AFDC) program, as part of federal welfare reform. Among other changes, welfare is no longer an entitlement, and adult recipients in most cases are required to work at least part-time or participate in work-related training to continue receiving benefits. Additionally, federal funds can be used to provide adult recipients with benefits for up to five years, although some states set a shorter cap.[1] States set TANF benefit levels, and they vary widely from state to state. Additional information on current state policies is available from the Urban Institute.

In 2015, children made up three-quarters of TANF recipients.[2]  Of families receiving TANF, half (50 percent) had one child, and a bit more than one-quarter (28 percent) had two children.[3] In many cases, the child is the only beneficiary in the household, because the parent is ineligible, or the child does not live with a parent; these cases accounted for 49 percent of all TANF cases in the 2015 fiscal year.[4] As of fiscal year 2015, of adult TANF recipients, four percent were younger than 20, and another 50 percent between 20 and 29.[5]

TANF benefits are not accessed by children in many poor families, limiting its capacity to lift poor children out of poverty.[6],[7]. The average monthly cash payment to a family with one child was $332 per month in 2015.[8] However, most TANF families receive other, non-cash, assistance. In the 2015 fiscal year, 89 percent of TANF families received medical assistance, and 84 percent received SNAP (food stamps), 12 percent had subsidized housing, and eight percent had subsidized childcare.[9]

In rigorous studies of welfare and employment programs launched in the 1990s, many of which came to be included as part of TANF, results were mixed in terms of their effects on children. Enhanced welfare-to-work programs  that offered  earnings incentives and work supports were found to have positive effects on school achievement for preschoolers, and negative effects for middle schoolers.[10] One experimental evaluation focusing on children whose families received cash assistance  while they were in preschool found no longitudinal impacts at middle school.[11] However, positive impacts have been found to occur when programs improve a family’s economic status or a mother’s education.[12]

In contrast, one study found mothers’ TANF receipt associated with negative effects on children’s early cognitive development, and identified maternal stress as a possible mediator, raising concerns about the potential burdens imposed by participation in the program.[13] In another study, negative effects on school engagement and externalizing behavior were evident only in families where the head-of-household was deemed “hard-to-employ” due to drug use, low education or work experience, or depression.[14]

Studies of both enhanced and traditional welfare policies have found mostly negative impacts on adolescents’ school-achievement.[15],[16]

Trends

After rising from 6.1 million in 1970 to 9.5 million in 1993, the number of children receiving AFDC/TANF payments fell to 2.3 million in 2015. (Figure 1) Similarly, the percentage of all children receiving AFDC/TANF steadily decreased from 14 percent in 1993 to three percent in 2015, despite a one-percent increase in 2007 at the start of the economic recession.  Among children living in families below the poverty threshold, the proportion receiving AFDC/TANF decreased from 62 percent in 1995 to 21 percent in 2008.[17] (Figure 2) Following the recession that began in late 2007, the number of children receiving TANF payments rose to 3.3 million in 2010 and 2011, then fell to 2.3 million in 2015—the lowest number in recent recordkeeping. (Figure 1) The percentage of children receiving benefits also increased slightly, to five percent in 2010, before decreasing to three percent in 2015. However, as a proportion of all children living in poverty, the percentage receiving TANF has declined over most of this period; in 2015, only 16 percent of children living in poverty received TANF—a record low. (Figure 2)

Differences by Age

Compared to adolescents, younger children—preschool-aged children, in particular–are more likely to be recipients of TANF benefits. In the 2015 fiscal year, 14 percent of children receiving TANF funds were under age two, and 27 percent were between two and five years old. Only 8 percent of children receiving TANF were between the ages of 16 and 19. A disproportionate share of TANF recipients, relative to the general child population, are under six. (Figure 3)

Differences by Race/Hispanic Origin[18]

In fiscal year 2015, approximately 4 in 10 (39 percent) child TANF recipients were Hispanic, and three in ten (29 percent) were black. Hispanic children were 36 percent of children in poverty, while black children were 25 percent of children in poverty. Whites were 31 percent of children in poverty, and 26 percent of child TANF recipients. (Figure 4)

State and Local Estimates

State estimates are available from the Department
of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children & Families,
Office of Family Support.

International Estimates

None available.

National Goals

None.

Related Indicators

Definition

In August 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (Public Law 104-193) repealed the Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program and created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in its place. The purposes of TANF are to: (1) provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for either in their own homes or in the homes of relatives; (2) end welfare dependence by promoting preparation for jobs, work, and marriage; (3) prevent and reduce non-marital pregnancies; and (4) encourage the formation and preservation of two-parent families.[19] Figures for this report are based on state-reported administrative data on participants in the program who received cash grants. Yearly totals are based on the average monthly number of participants.

Data Sources

TANF caseload data for 2000-2015: Administration for Children & Families, Office of Family Assistance. (2017). TANF Caseload Data {various years} [Tables]. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ofa/data-reports

TANF caseload data for FY 1970-1999: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2009). Indicators of Welfare Dependence: Annual Report to the Congress, 2008. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/indicators08/apa.shtml

All other data for FY 2010-2015: Administration for Children & Families, Office of Family Assistance. (2016). Characteristics and Financial Circumstances of TANF Recipients, Fiscal Year {various years} [Tables]. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ofa/resource-library/search?area[2377]=2377&topic[2353]=2353

All other data for FY 1999-2009: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2012). Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program: Annual reports to Congress. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ofa/resource-library/search?area[2377]=2377#?area[2377]=2377&type[3085]=3085&ajax=1

General population data: United States Census Bureau. (2017). Current Population Survey [Tables]. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/cps/data/cpstablecreator.html

Raw Data Source

Caseload numbers are administrative data compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Family Assistance.

Poverty and population data are from the Current Population Survey: http://www.bls.gov/cps/home.htm

 

Appendix 1 – Child Recipients of AFDC/TANF: Selected Years 1970-2015

1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002
Child Recipients in the
States and DC (in thousands)
6,104 7,928 7,295 7,073 7,781 9,013 8,355 7,077 5,781 4,836 4,260 3,987 3,790
Child Recipients as a
Percentage of Total Child Population1
8.7 11.8 11.5 11.3 12.1 13.0 11.9 10.0 8.1 6.7 5.9 5.5 5.2
Child Recipients as a
Percentage of Children in Poverty2
58.5 71.4 63.2 54.4 57.9 61.5 57.8 50.1 42.9 39.4 36.8 34.0 31.2
2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013* 2014 2015
Child Recipients in the
States and DC (in thousands)
3,709 3,593 3,407 3,185 3,003 2,922 3,156 3,307 3,280 3,045 2,837 2,601 2,301
Child Recipients as a
Percentage of Total Child Population1
5.1 4.9 4.6 4.3 4.0 3.9 4.2 4.5 4.4 4.1 3.9 3.5 3.1
Child Recipients as a
Percentage of Children in Poverty2
28.8 27.6 26.4 24.8 22.5 20.8 20.4 20.3 20.3 18.9 19.4 16.7 15.9
* 2013 Washington, D.C., data incomplete.

1 Population numbers used as denominators are resident population under 18.  Source: American FactFinder. (available Online at: https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=PEP_2013_PEPAGESEX&prodType=table)

2For poverty population data see Current Population Reports, Series P60-231 (available online at:  https://www.census.gov/cps/data/cpstablecreator.html)Because children living with relatives other than their parents are eligible for benefits in most states regardless of household poverty level, some child recipients are not in poverty.

Sources: Data for 2000-2015: Administration for Children & Families, Office of Family Assistance. (2017). TANF Caseload Data {various years} [Tables]. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ofa/data-reports Data for FY 1970-1999: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2009). Indicators of Welfare Dependence: Annual Report to the Congress, 2008. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/indicators08/apa.shtml General population data: United States Census Bureau. (2017). Current Population Survey [Tables]. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/cps/data/cpstablecreator.html

 

Appendix 2 – Percentage and Number of Child Recipients of TANF, by Age and Race/Hispanic Origin: FY 1998-20151

Percentage 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Age
0-1 12.3 12.2 13.1 13.4 14.6 14.6 14.7 14.5 14.5 15.4 16.0 16.1 16.0 15.7 15.1 14.3  14.3  14.3
2 to 5 27.5 26.0 25.6 24.9 25.1 25.4 25.7 25.0 25.5 25.3 25.5 26.9 28.0 28.9 28.8 28.7 27.9 26.6
6 to 11 35.4 35.8 36.2 35.8 34.4 33.4 32.2 31.8 31.1 30.5 30.4 29.9 30.1 30.3 30.9 23.2 33.0 34.5
12 to 15 16.3 16.7 17.4 18.4 18.3 18.8 19.4 19.9 19.7 19.2 18.5 17.9 16.7 16.6 16.8 16.4 16.6 16.4
16 to 19 7.4 7.8 7.6 7.5 7.6 7.7 8.0 8.8 9.2 9.5 9.5 9.2 9.2 8.5 8.4 8.4 8.1 8.2
Race/Hispanic Origin2
Hispanic 23.6 26.0 26.8 27.8 27.4 27.5 27.1 28.6 29.2 30.1 32.5 33.5 34.7 35.2 36.6 38.5 39.3 39.3
White 28.5 25.8 26.8 25.6 26.8 27.0 27.8 27.7 28.8 27.6 26.2 26.1 27.1 25.5 25.3 25.5 25.4 25.9
Black 40.6 39.5 40.1 40.8 39.8 39.1 38.6 37.5 36.4 36.2 34.1 33.1 31.4 32.2 30.9 30.5 29.7 29.0
Asian 4.2 4.6 2.8 2.7 2.7 2.5 2.1 2.5 2.1 2.3 2.6 2.5 2.0 2.0 2.1 1.8 1.8 1.8
Native American 1.5 1.7 1.6 1.2 1.4 1.4 1.4 1.3 1.3 1.2 1.2 1.2 1.0 1.0 1.1 1.0 1.0 1.1
Number (in thousands) 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Total 6,273 5,319 4,385 4,055 3,835 3,737 3,611 3,457 3,204 3,005 2,911 3,068 3,280 3,317 3,105 2,914 2,690 2,370
Age
0-1 772 649 574 543 560 546 531 501 465 463 466 494 525 521 469 417 385 339
2 to 5 1,725 1,383 1,122 1,010 963 949 928 864 817 760 742 825 918 959 894 836 751 630
6 to 11 2,221 1,904 1,587 1,452 1,319 1,248 1,163 1,099 996 917 885 917 987 1,005 959 938 888 818
12 to 15 1,022 888 763 746 702 703 701 688 631 577 539 549 548 551 522 478 447 389
16 to 19 464 415 333 304 291 288 289 304 295 285 277 282 302 282 261 245 218 194
Race/Hispanic Origin2
Hispanic 1,480 1,383 1,175 1,127 1,051 1,028 979 989 935 905 946 1,028 1,138 1,167 1,136 1,122 1,057 931
White 1,788 1,372 1,175 1,038 1,028 1,009 1,004 958 923 829 763 801 889 846 786 743 683 614
Black 2,547 2,101 1,758 1,654 1,526 1,461 1,394 1,297 1,166 1,088 993 1,015 1,030 1,068 959 889 799 687
Asian 263 245 123 109 104 93 76 86 67 69 76 77 66 66 65 52 48 43
Native American 94 90 70 49 54 52 51 45 42 36 35 37 33 33 34 29 27 26
1The fiscal year begins in October of the previous year.

2Hispanics may be any race. Totals and percentages for whites and blacks do not include Hispanics.

Sources: Data for FY 2010-2015: Administration for Children & Families, Office of Family Assistance. (2016). Characteristics and Financial Circumstances of TANF Recipients, Fiscal Year {various years} [Tables]. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ofa/resource-library/search?area[2377]=2377&topic[2353]=2353  Data for FY 1999-2009: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2012). Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program: Annual reports to Congress. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ofa/resource-library/search?area[2377]=2377#?area[2377]=2377&type[3085]=3085&ajax=1

 

 

Endnotes


[1]Zedlewski, S. R. (2012). Welfare reform: What have we learned in fifteen years? Washington, DC: The Urban Institute. Retrieved from http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/32736/412539-Welfare-Reform-What-Have-We-Learned-in-Fifteen-Years-.PDF.

[2]Administration for Children & Families, Office of Family Assistance. (2016). Characteristics and Financial Circumstances of TANF Recipients, Fiscal Year 2015 [Tables 15 and 30]. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/ofa/characteristics_and_financial_circumstances_of_tanf_recipients.pdf.

[3]Administration for Children & Families, Office of Family Assistance. (2016). Op. cit. Table 4

[4]Administration for Children & Families, Office of Family Assistance. (2016). Op. cit. Table 3

[5]Lower-Basch, E. (2015). Young adults and TANF: Rethinking work activities. Washington, DC: Center for Law and Social Policy. Retrieved from http://www.clasp.org/resources-and-publications/publication-1/Young-Adults-and-TANF.pdf.

[6]Floyd, I., Pavetti, L., and Schott, L. (2017). TANF reaching few poor families. Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. http://www.cbpp.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/6-16-15tanf.pdf

[7]U.S. Census Bureau (2016). The Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2015. Current Population Reports (P60-258). Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2016/demo/p60-258.pdf

[8]Administration for Children & Families, Office of Family Assistance. (2016). Op. cit. Table 37

[9]Administration for Children & Families, Office of Family Assistance. (2016). Op. cit. Table 11

[10]Morris, P. A., Duncan, G. J., and Clark-Kauffman, E. (2004). Morris, P. A., Duncan, G. J., & Clark-Kauffman, E. (2004). Child well-being in an era of welfare reform: The sensitivity of transitions in development to policy change. Developmental Psychology, 41(6), 919-932.

[11]McGroder, S. M., Zaslow, M. J., Moore, K. A., & Brooks, J. L. (2006). Mandatory welfare-to-work programs and preschool-age children: Do impacts persist into middle childhood? In A. C. Huston & M. N. Ripke (Eds.), Middle childhood: Contexts of development. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

[12]Duncan, G.J., & Broogs-Gunn, J. (2000). Family Poverty, Welfare Reform, and Child Development. Child Development, 71(1); 188-196.

[13]Heflin, C. M., & Acevedo, S. K. (2011). Non-income effects of welfare receipt on early childhood cognitive scores. Children and Youth Services Review, 33, 634-643.

[14]Yoshikawa, H., Magnuson, K. A., Bos, J. M., & Hsueh, J. (2003). Effects of earnings-supplement policies on adult economic and middle-childhood outcomes differ for the hardest to employ. Child Development, 74(5), 1500-1521.

[15]Morris, P. A., Duncan, G. J., & Clark-Kauffman, E. (2004). Op cit.

[16]Zaslow, M., Moore, K. A., Brooks, J., Morris, P., Tout, K., Redd, Z., & Emig, C. (2002). Experimental studies of welfare reform and children. The Future of Children, 12(1): 79-96.

[17]Some states may set family income thresholds for eligibility for TANF non-cash benefits that exceed the federal poverty level, and eligibility for cash benefits in child-only cases are not determined by family income when the child is living with relatives (the case in half of child-only cases). Thus, it may be that not all children receiving TANF are in poverty.

[18]Hispanics may be any race. Estimates for whites and blacks in this report do not include Hispanics.

[19]U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means. (2004). Green Book: Background material and data on the programs within the jurisdiction of the committee on ways and means [Electronic Version]. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://greenbook.waysandmeans.house.gov/

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2017). Child recipients of welfare(AFDC/TANF). Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=child-recipients-of-welfareafdctanf

 

Last updated: May 2017