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

TANF: A Role for Funders

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Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) serves very few poor families — only one in four families living in poverty. Furthermore, TANF payments are very low and their value has eroded over time as most states have not adjusted TANF payments to account for inflation.

Today, in every state, a family that relies entirely on TANF for income cannot cover the cost of fair market rent. Often public policies, government programs, research and advocacy focused on family homelessness are not connected with policies, programs, research and advocacy focused on welfare to work programs or poverty.

Funders can, however, play an important role in addressing the gap between state TANF benefits and Fair Market Rents, as well as strengthening the relationship between state TANF programs and housing programs.

Now is the time to build coalitions linking advocates working to end homelessness with advocates working to strengthen the safety net TANF payments and other benefits can provide for needy families.

What can funders do?

  • 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 offer support to facilitate public education and coalition building to build shared knowledge and effective advocacy for changes in TANF policies that can contribute to solutions to family homelessness

  • 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

  • Support research and evaluation to measure the impact of TANF-funded programs that provide assistance tailored to the needs of homeless families

What state-level changes to TANF can funders support?

  • Increase TANF payments to recover the lost value and to cover the cost of rental housing and protect families from homelessness. States should also establish cost of living adjustments based on inflation so benefits do not lose their value

  • Use TANF funds to provide rapid re-housing assistance and housing stabilization support services for families experiencing homelessness

  • Reduce or remove administrative barriers and modify work participation requirements and other program rules that can result in excluding the most vulnerable families from TANF programs

  • Create or expand subsidized and transitional jobs that provide meaningful opportunities for work and the development of skills and experience that can lead to better employment opportunities

  • Provide more flexible work supports that are tailored to the needs of families experiencing or at risk of homelessness, including childcare, transportation assistance, and services to address employment barriers related to limited education and the effects of trauma, mental health, and substance use disorders

  • Strengthen the connections among welfare-to-work, job training and homeless assistance programs to pursue shared goals and strategies and to facilitate linkages for families in need

To learn more about TANF policies and why the safety net for poor families has weakened in recent years, we recommend:


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We joined Funders Together because we believe in the power of philanthropy to play a major role in ending homelessness, and we know we have much to learn from funders across the country.

-Christine Marge, Director of Housing and Financial Stability at United Way of Greater Los Angeles

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-David Wertheimer, Deputy Director at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

-President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964 State of the Union Address

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Our family foundation convenes local funders and key community stakeholders around strategies to end homelessness in Houston. Funders Together members have been invaluable mentors to us in this effort, traveling to our community to share their expertise and examples of best practices from around the nation.

-Nancy Frees Fountain, Managing Director at The Frees Foundation

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