State-level TANF Policies and Practice May Shape Access and Utilization among Hispanic Families

Publication Date:

October 15, 2020

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) is a federally funded program with powerful potential to support families’ economic needs by providing cash assistance or other services that satisfy one of its four purposes (see text box). Under TANF, the federal government provides states with block grants that give them authority to allocate funds as long as federal purposes are met. States have the flexibility to develop their own policies and practices that can affect program eligibility and individual’s experiences with accessing and maintaining support from TANF cash assistance. Additionally, states have discretion in the extent to which counties—and, in some cases, cities—have decision-making authority over how TANF funds are administered.

TANF cash assistance supports a small portion of potentially eligible families; in 2018, less than one quarter of families living in poverty received TANF cash assistance.1 Even though receipt is higher among eligible children (as child-only cases), 35 percent of children in poverty—including 45 percent of children in deep poverty—who were eligible for TANF cash assistance did not receive it.2 Notably, although important for families, TANF cash benefits typically are not enough to move families above the poverty line. In 2018, the national average monthly cash benefit received by families was $423;3 however, the national average monthly income threshold for the federal poverty level (FPL) was $1,011 for one person and $1,732 for a family of three.4

Hispanics comprise 18 percent of the national population,5 but represent a disproportionate share of individuals in poverty (26%).6 According to estimates from the 2018 American Community Survey, 5.8 percent of foreign-born and 7.2 percent of U.S.-born Hispanic child households reside in deep poverty (<50% of FPL); 14.3 percent and 10.3 percent, respectively, reside in medium poverty (50-99% of FPL); and 34.0 and 23.0 percent, respectively, reside in near poverty (100-199% of FPL).7 The extent to which states provide cash benefits to children in poverty varies substantially. In 2014, TANF cash assistance, on average, was provided to fewer than 8 families for every 100 with children in poverty in Arizona, North Carolina, and Texas, and for at least 40 families for every 100 with children in poverty in California and New York.8

A variety of demographic characteristics related to the citizenship status of Hispanic family and household members, family and household composition, and language fluency may affect program eligibility, access, and utilization. For example, Hispanic families are more likely than non-Hispanic families to be residing with at least one non-U.S.-born parent (50%),9 an unrelated adult (27%),10 and an adult who is not verbally proficient in English (37%).11

This brief describes state-level policies and administrative practices for TANF that may influence income eligible Hispanic families’ use or non-use of the cash assistance component of the TANF program.a Our analysis focuses on the 13 states that are home to over 80 percent of all Hispanic children living in low income (<200% FPL) households in the United States, as of 2016.12 We first provide some detail on the demographic characteristics of the 3 states studied and describe how each state allocated TANF funds. We then describe four provisions of TANF cash assistance policies that determine 1) the eligibility of individuals who are authorized non-citizens; 2) eligibility based on family structure; 3) eligibility of household members who are not part of the immediate family; and 4) whether health status screening is required to maintain eligibility (e.g., immunizations). We also describe administrative practices related to 1) the information requirements in the application form; and 2) the linguistic accessibility of program information and whether an application is available online. Data were collected using publicly available data sources capturing TANF policies and practices prior to March 2020.

Footnote and References


a Federal TANF dollars are allocated as long as the activities or services fall within one of the four purposes—including, for example, early childhood education and care. This brief focuses solely on how TANF dollars are allocated to cash assistance.


1 Floyd, I. (2020). Policy Brief: Cash Assistance Should Reach Millions More Families. Washington, D.C.: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Retrieved from

2 Falk, K. (2017). Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): Size of the Population Eligible for and Receiving Cash Assistance. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service. Retrieved from

3 Characteristics and Financial Circumstances of TANF Recipients. (2019). Washington, D.C.: Administration for Children & Families, Office of Family Assistance. Retrieved from

4 2018 Poverty Guidelines. (2018). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Retrieved from

5 Hispanic Heritage Month 2019. (2019). Suitland, MD: United States Census Bureau. Retrieved from

6 Child population by race in the United States. (n.d). Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation, Kids Count Data Center. Retrieved from,871,870,573,869,36,

7 Ryberg, R., Guzman, L. A National Portrait of Hispanic Children in Need: 2020 Update (forthcoming). Bethesda, MD: National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families.

8 Hahn, H., Aron, L., Lou, C., Pratt, E., & Okoli, A. (2017). Why does Cash Welfare Depend on Where You Live? Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute. Retrieved from

9 Clarke, W., Turner, K., & Guzman, L. (2017). One Quarter of Hispanic Children in the United States Have an Unauthorized Immigrant Parent. Bethesda, MD: National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families. Retrieved from

10 Turner, K., Guzman, L., Wildsmith, E., & Scott, M. (2015). The Complex and Varied Households of Low-Income and Hispanic Children. Bethesda, MD: National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families. Retrieved from

11 Flores, A., Lopez, G., & Radford, J. (2015). Statistical portrait of Hispanics in the United States. Washington, D.C.: Pew Research Center, Hispanic Trends. Retrieved from

12 Gennetian, L., Mendez, J., & Hill, Z. (2019). How State-level Child Care Development Fund Policies May Shape Access and Utilization among Hispanic Families. Bethesda, MD: National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families. Retrieved from