BP6: AFDC vs. TANF: the grudge match

Explain AFDC & TANF.  Discuss the ideological and political changes surrounding the switch from AFDC to TANF. Describe the differences & similarities between the two programs.  

These blog posts have been eerily on-target with whatever is going on in my life at the time.

I have a friend who experiences pretty intense instability in every area of her life. Yesterday I was helping her move out of her house because she was being evicted. After months of struggle and food insecurity, she finally filed for SNAP and TANF. I felt good that I was able to explain some of the benefits of it to her and also comfort her with the knowledge that, as a taxpayer, she’s already paid for these services. Now she gets to use them.

I’m a big proponent of working smarter, not harder (although I do work hard). I found this super nifty chart that lays out many of the similarities and differences in AFDC and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).

A major ideological difference in AFDC and TANF is the idea that people were “living off the system”, since there were no limits on how long a person could be on assistance. TANF is a five-year limit. Another difference is the idea that children had to be deprived of support by one parent because of death, separation, divorce, or desertion.

I can see the perspective of those who feel that people “live off” welfare and do not support government support. Those people are likely recalling AFDC, however, and are uneducated on how TANF works. Check out the chart.

I pulled this from www.advocatesforyouth.org.


(before 1997)

(after 1997)

Federal Funding
  • Unlimited for AFDC and EA
  • Capped entitlement for JOBS
  • Federal share of AFDC and JOBS costs varied inversely with state per capita income
  • Fixed grant
  • Plus: (1) contingency fund and loans for states with high population growth and low welfare spending; (2) welfare-to-work grants (through FY 2003); and (3) bonuses to states that reduce the number of out-of-wedlock births and abortions
State Funding
  • Matching required for each federal dollar
  • States must spend 75 percent of “historic” level (100 percent for contingency funds) and must provide matching for contingency funds
Categories Eligibility
  • Children with one parent or with an incapacitated or unemployed second parent
  • Set by state
Income Limits
  • Set by state
  • Set by state
Benefit Levels
  • Set by state
  • Set by state
  • States required to aid all families eligible under state income standards
  • TANF expressly denies entitlement to some individuals
Work Requirement
  • JOBS Program had participation requirements, but not work requirements
  • By 2002, states must have 50 percent of their caseload in specified work activities
Exemptions from Work Requirement
  • Parents (chiefly mothers) with a child under age three (under age one at state option)
  • None, but states may exempt single parents caring for children under age 1
Work Trigger
  • None
  • Work (as defined by the state) required after a maximum of two years of benefits
Time Limit for Benefits
  • None
  • Five-year time limit (20 percent hardship exceptions allowed)

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