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Temporary Aid to Needy Families: Policy Analysis


Racial inequality has been a topical issue in the United States across centuries due to its systemic nature. Structural racism affects many people, but families in need, especially their children, are particularly vulnerable. Welfare policies aim at assisting such families, and the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) block grant regulates many programs of this kind.

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The main objective of TANF is to ensure the social security of less fortunate families through financial support and increased work opportunities. Nevertheless, the way in which the policy is currently implemented is sub-optimal, reflecting systemic issues observed through history. The purpose of this paper is to examine TANF in the context of its development and effectiveness, discerning racial tendencies in child welfare distribution.

Racial Disparities in Child Welfare Distribution

Welfare policies exist to alleviate the problem of poverty and allow children to pass the crucial stages of their development in optimal conditions. Being deprived of basic necessities while not having access to quality services entails an unfortunate situation in which children cannot find their deserved place in life. As a result, they have fewer chances of graduating from college and having a successful career, which is why poverty persists.

People of color have faced particular challenges in this regard, as the issue of unfair welfare distribution has remained topical for decades. Garcia et al. (2016) state that children of color are generally less likely to receive necessary services than their white peers are. Parolin (2019) confirms this idea, adding that black children are twice as likely as Caucasian families to live in poverty. Therefore, racial disparities are reflected in the general statistics, showing that poverty is a more acute issue for families of color, as white privilege remains important even in relation to people in need.

Historical Context of the Issue

The discussed issue lies within a broad historical context, as it has been discussed for almost a century. The first attempts at providing American citizens with effective social security policies date back to the 1930s and The Social Security Act (“The temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) block grant: A legislative history,” 2020).

In accordance with the policy, federal funding was allocated to families in which at least one of the parents was incapable of providing financial support. 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 new amendments encouraged people to work, providing them with incentives to do so.

In the 1960s, debates began surrounding the necessity of reforming the welfare system. Between 1964 and 1973, the government managed to expand the range of families receiving welfare from one million to 3.1 million (“The temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) block grant,” 2020)..

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By the 1990s, the government noticed that many state fund recipients relied on welfare as a constant source of income, refusing to work. At this point, President Clinton proposed to “end welfare as we know it” (“The temporary assistance for needy families,” 2020, p. 5). The new vision included time limits and additional motivation to learn and work instead of forming a dependence on federal money. Accordingly, TANF was supposed to provide people with incentives to find jobs, and the temporary nature of the assistance is reflected in its name.

Generally, the core concepts of TANF have been kept intact since 1996, and the system functions upon the same principles in 2020. However, while the nature of the project has not changed, it has seen several extensions, which were pointed at new challenges arising in the 21st century. As far as the present situation is concerned, TANF is funded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, reflecting one of the most important problems of the year 2020 (“The temporary assistance for needy families,” 2020, p. 5).

As of now, all recipients of welfare are obliged to begin working as soon as they are eligible or within two following years. While this condition may difficult for single parents, they have to work at least thirty hours per week (“Temporary aid to needy families (TANF), n.d.). If a family fails to meet such requirements, the state’s authorities have the right to terminate their participation in the program. Accordingly, local governments have broad opportunities in terms of program regulation and decision-making

Temporary Aid to Needy Families: Effectiveness and Feasibility

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 own living. Evidently, 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 appears to be a feasible project, as 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 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.). This way, the policy receives multilateral financial support, gaining economic, political, and administrative feasibility.

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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). 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. For example, black mothers become victims of prejudices at the pregnancy stage. As research suggests, they are more likely to be screened for drug use or reported to welfare services (Harp & Bunting, 2019). As a result, they lose either the government’s financial support or even the custody of their child. Therefore, instead of eliminating social disparities, it increases the pressure on particular social groups.


In conclusion, the Temporary Aid for Needy Families block grant has the potential to be an effective instrument against poverty. The essence of the program was inspired by decades of relevant policy-making experience. Accordingly, it attempts to consider the mistakes of its predecessors by introducing more profound measures. Nevertheless, the way in which TANF is currently implemented has been affected by broader, systemic issues consisting of structural racial disparities prevailing in the United States.

Families of color have been treated unfairly by state authorities, often losing TANF funds due to racial prejudices. However, the policy’s potential remains considerable and structural changes in it will allow the government to eradicate the disparity and ensure equal distribution of welfare, as dictated by the program’s principles (Parolin, 2019). Accordingly, accurate extensions will enable the proper utilization of the current framework without replacing it.


Quality changes in TANF can be implemented over a short period and yield substantial results. First of all, each state should introduce a board of ethics, supervising the distribution of welfare. The board will ensure that the process is based on objective criteria instead of racial factors. In addition, it will consider the complaints of the public, who will have an opportunity to voice their concerns. People of color, who believe they were wrongfully deprived of TANF support, will have additional leverage on the system. This way, state authorities will feel additional responsibility for the correct assessment of each situation and proper, equal distribution of welfare.


An, S., & Choi, G. Y. (2019). Is TANF truly accessible and helpful? Victims’ experiences with domestic violence screening under the family violence option. Affilia, 34(4), 461–480. Web.

Booshehri, L. G., Dugan, J., Patel, F., Bloom, S., & Chilton, M. (2018). Trauma-informed Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): A randomized controlled trial with a two-generation impact. Social Politics: Journal of Child and Family Studies, 27, 1594–1604. Web.

Garcia, A. R., Kim, M., & DeNard, C. (2016). Context matters: The state of racial disparities in mental health services among youth reported to child welfare in 1999 and 2009. Children and Youth Services Review, 66, 101–108. Web.

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Parolin, Z. (2019). Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the black–white child poverty gap in the United States. Socio-Economic Review. Web.

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). Web.

Semega, J., Kollar, M., Creamer, J., & Mohanty, A. (2020). Income and poverty in the United States: 2018. Current population reports. Web.

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. Web.

Temporary aid to needy families (TANF). (n.d.). Office of Family Assistance. Web.

The temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) block grant: A legislative history. (2020). Congressional Research Service. Web.

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