A national network of funders supporting strategic, innovative, and effective solutions to homelessness

Inadequate and Inconsistent TANF Funding is Driving Families into Homelessness


Funders Together's new interactive map demonstrates the shortcomings of the TANF program in preventing family homelessness in the United States.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program provides support to families who have little or no income, and is an essential part of the social safety net serving American families. But in every state, families that rely entirely on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) for their income are struggling to pay the rent. 

TANF, which was created in 1996 as part of a major overhaul on the welfare systems in the United States, has become less effective as a safety net for a variety of reasons.  One factor is that TANF payments in most states have not been adjusted for inflation since 1996, despite significant increases in the average cost of a rental apartment.  Another factor is that TANF is administered by states, and so payments have been inconsistent across the country.

We know that inadequate and inconsistent TANF payments is one reason that thousands of families with children experience homelessness each year.  And we know that philanthropy can help to change that.

This week, Funders Together released a new interactive mapping tool that demonstrates the shortcomings of the TANF program in preventing family homelessness in the United States. 

If you haven’t already had an opportunity to use our new tool, I encourage you to do so. The map outlines the varying TANF payment rates for a single-parent family of three without income and compares that figure to the Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the same area.

Our findings: income from TANF will not cover Fair Market Rent in any state.  In many states, families cannot even afford to pay half of their rents, let alone other basic living expenses.  The chart below provides a snapshot of the Fair Market Rent (blue) and maximum TANF payment (red) in each state.

We also found that in states like Wyoming, where TANF payments cover roughly 80 percent of Fair Market Rent, only four out of every 100 families living in poverty actually received TANF benefits.  Many of the adults in vulnerable families want to work -- and meet the welfare-to-work requirements of TANF -- but face barriers like low levels of education, limited work experience, poor health, lack of transportation and childcare, and criminal records.  Others face arbitrary administrative barriers like time limits.  As a result, many families who are otherwise eligible for TANF are unable to receive the benefits.


The good news is the philanthropy can help to ensure that TANF protects our most vulnerable families.  

Funders can:

  • Educate state policymakers and the public about the connections between family homelessness, housing costs, and inadequate TANF benefits for families with children;
  • Provide meeting space, host forums, and help facilitate public education and coalition building to build shared knowledge and effective advocacy for changes in TANF policies; 
  • Provide challenge grants to match investments of TANF funding in programs designed to help prevent and end family homelessness, including rapid re-housing, housing stabilization supports, and subsidized jobs; and 
  • Support research and evaluations to measure the impact of TANF-funded programs that provide assistance tailored to the needs of homeless families.

Funders can also support state-level changes to TANF, including:

  • Adjustment of TANF levels to account for inflation and cover the cost of rental housing;
  • Use of TANF funds to provide emergency housing assistance, including rapid re-housing;
  • Removal of administrative barriers that exclude families from TANF;
  • Use of TANF to offer meaningful job training and opportunities, so that families can lift themselves out of poverty; and
  • Strengthening of connections between housing and employment services

For more tips for funders, take a look at our funder-focused TANF guide.

angela.environmental.2.jpgAngela Day is the Policy and Advocacy Intern at Funders Together.  She is pursuing a Master's degree from the Graduate School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University, where she focuses her research and coursework on the areas of housing and homelessness. Find her at @Angela_Day. 





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