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Poverty is a persistent problem in the United States. In 2020, the poverty rate in the United States was 11.4% ("Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2020"). Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) is the main basic assistance program for families living in poverty in the United States. It was enacted in 1995 to reform the previous basic assistance program for families, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) (Corbett 2013). Unlike its predecessor, on top of providing income to families when a parent or guardian could not, TANF is designed to reduce dependency on welfare. This is done in the law through three mechanisms: ending entitlement of poor families to cash assistance, creating work requirements for recipients, and creating time limits for aid.

TANF has failed to alleviate poverty on a national level. Even though federal cash assistance rolls decreased significantly under TANF, there is still a high poverty rate, meaning TANF fails to reach many poor Americans. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), only 23 out of every 100 families living in poverty in 2019 received cash assistance through TANF, versus 68 out of every 100 families under AFDC (“Policy Basics” 2021). The CBPP estimates that to serve families living in poverty to the extent that AFDC did, the program would have to help about two million more families. The National Poverty Center also found that the number of people in the United States living on less than $2 a day rose under TANF, going from 636,000 in 1996 (before TANF) to 1.65 million in 2011 (Newkirk 2018). TANF rolls have consistently decreased year to year at a rate outpacing the decline in the poverty rate, which indicates that TANF is serving a decreasing proportion of poor families. This is largely due to specific restrictions on TANF cash assistance that states have chosen to implement.