Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

The federal government, through New Deal legislation in the 1930s, put in place a program that provided subsidies to state and local governments to provide economic support to the very poor. This program, colloquially referred to as welfare, was known until recently as the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program.

The AFDC, which actually dated to the 1910s and was implemented by most states, was originally intended to be a program to help widowed mothers and mothers whose husbands had left them. In its early years, the program was very small, and fairly successful. The AFDC program was replaced in 1996 by the TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) program, which is run by the states who must follow federal guidelines.

There are a number of restrictions on TANF benefits; for example, adults cannot receive TANF benefits for more than 5 years, and adults who receive TANF benefits must take jobs within 2 years. There is also a waiting period of 5 years before most new immigrants can receive TANF benefits.

In 1960, 3 million women and children were collecting AFDC benefits. That number doubled in five years and then doubled again by 1975. By 1995, 13.6 million women and children were receiving AFDC grants. In addition, the types of recipients had changed drastically. By 1991, widows, the group that AFDC was originally designed for, made up only 1.6% of all recipients. Mothers who weredivorced, separated, or never married rose, however, from 37% of the rolls in 1950 to 85% in 1991.

The race and ethnicity of the recipients also changed. In 1939, more than 80%of recipients were white. By 1996, 60% of the recipients were women and children of color. In absolute numbers, however, there were slightly more whiteson AFDC than blacks, and twice as many whites receiving public benefits thanblacks.

There are a number of popular misconceptions about recipients of TANF grants.Although it is frequently assumed that more and more people are receiving welfare payments through TANF, the fact is that in 1993 5.5% of the total population received TANF supplements, but in 1997 only 3.9% of the total population did. Likewise, many Americans believe TANF grants are too generous; in fact, the average monthly TANF income for a household of three is $499, comparedto a federal poverty level income of $1,043. Many people believe that most TANF parents are teenagers, but when one examines the ages of parents in TANF families, 6% are 19 years and under; 21% are between the ages of 20 and 24 years; 21% are between the ages of 25 and 29 years; 35% are between 30 and 39 years of age; and 17% are 40 years old and over.

In addition, many people fail to realize that TANF families tend to be small,with approximately 75% of the recipients having two or fewer children. TANFfamilies are racially and ethnically diverse; about 37% are African American,36% are White, and 20% are Hispanic. It is also not well known that most TANF mothers have prior work experience.

It is true, however, that most TANF mothers are single parents (only 13% aremarried with their husbands present); that recipients are more likely to remain on TANF rolls for long periods if they are single and have little formal education (nearly half of all TANF mothers have less than a high school education); and that many recipients find the absence of affordable, reliable childcare an impediment to taking jobs.

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