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SSRC Notes: The many faces of child-only TANF

Date Added to Library: 
Thursday, September 22, 2016 - 21:44
Individual Author: 
Miller, Emily
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Emily Miller, Self-Sufficiency Research Clearinghouse and Child Trends Staff

In 2013, nearly two in five of all the 1.7 million Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cases were child-only—cases in which the child(ren), not the caregiver(s), received a cash benefit. Child-only TANF cases differ from regular TANF in several key ways, including a general lack of time limits, work requirements, income limits, and other work supports such as childcare. Despite representing a large percentage of state TANF caseloads, as well as a diverse and often vulnerable population, there is limited in-depth research on child-only TANF cases.

Child-only TANF cases generally fall into three groups: child-only TANF non-parent caregiver (NPC) cases and two types of parental child-only cases. In NPC cases, the child does not live with a parent. Children frequently live with a relative, most often a grandparent, and many children who enter into NPC arrangements have experienced prior abuse or neglect.

In parental child-only TANF cases, parents are present in the household but do not qualify for regular TANF. In many of these cases, parents are ineligible because they either receive supplemental security income (SSI) or are ineligible immigrant parents (IIP). Additional state specified sanctions against parents make up a very small percentage of the child-only caseload. In most cases, parents receiving SSI have a work-disabling health limitation and are ineligible to receive regular TANF benefits. States’ TANF programs have a variety of eligibility requirements immigrant parents must meet to receive TANF benefits. For example, refugees and permanent residents with fewer than five years of residency are ineligible to receive benefits in certain states. Regardless of the parent’s immigrant status, children who are U.S. citizens are eligible to receive benefits.

In 1997, following the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA, commonly referred to as welfare reform), 20% of TANF cases were child-only. Since then, the total number of adult-aided TANF cases has decreased; and the percentage of child-only TANF cases rose dramatically to make up about 50% of the total TANF caseload in the mid-2000s. In 2013, child-only cases comprised 38% of the caseload. NPC cases made up 48% of the child-only caseload, compared to IIP at 29% and SSI at 23%. However, the national trend in child-only cases can be deceptive because of the state-by-state differences in caseload composition. For example, in 30 states, child-only TANF cases made up 30–49% of all TANF cases; but, in five states, 70% of TANF cases are child-only. The composition of the child-only cases also varies tremendously. Although NPC cases are generally the largest subset of child-only cases, this number varies from 5% in Maine to 89% in Idaho. The IIP caseload varies as well. Just three states (California, New York, and Washington) made up two thirds of the nationwide IIP caseload.

There is diversity among all types of child-only TANF caseloads in terms of family composition, needs, and challenges. For example, non-parent caregivers have to navigate child care or counseling—needs that child-only TANF grants do not address. SSI parents’ concerns about potentially deteriorating physical health, less work history than other TANF parents, and decreasing self-sufficiency differ from those of parents who are immigrants. Immigrant parents may be more hesitant to formally interact with public programs because of their immigration status. Despite these differences, policies tend to treat all child-only cases similarly. Children in the child-only TANF system are often wedged between two policy spheres: cash assistance and broader child welfare policies and systems. Despite the cash assistance that TANF provides, children in these vulnerable families often need additional resources such as case management and other support services.

Although they make up about half the TANF caseload, very little research has documented the specific needs and well-being of children in varied types of child-only TANF households. Furthermore, even less research has been conducted to examine the needs and challenges of children in different types of child-only TANF households. More research is necessary to better understand the experiences of children with child-only TANF cases in order to fully meet the needs of these vulnerable children and families.

Learn more about child-only TANF from the SSRC:

A recently posted SSRC Selections on child-only TANF includes more in-depth descriptions of resources. Additionally, the SSRC Library contains numerous reports and stakeholder resources about child-only TANF, including:

  • Welfare Rules Database: This database provides a comprehensive resource for anyone comparing cash assistance programs between states, researching changes in cash assistance rules within a single state, or looking for the most up-to-date information on the rules governing cash assistance in one state. It includes specific information about the maximum amount of benefits for child-only TANF cases.
  • TANF child-only cases: In this brief, the authors describe how the child-only TANF caseload has changed, and how cases become child-only. Furthermore, the authors describe how these cases interact with other policies and provide implications and areas for future research.
  • TANF child-only cases: Who are they? What policies affect them? What is being done?: In this report, the authors closely examine the diverse needs and prevalent data of different child-only TANF cases. The authors examine 35 states and conduct supplemental analyses on four states. 
  • Improving grandfamilies’ access to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families: This brief first describes specific policy rules for non-parental caregiver, or kinship, TANF. The authors then evaluate how different policy mechanisms potentially impact families. The authors also examine the unique needs of kinship caregivers.

For more resources, check out the SSRC Library and subscribe to SSRC or follow us on Twitter to receive updates about upcoming events, new library materials on self-sufficiency topics of interest to you and more.

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