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. 





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

I am thankful for the local partnerships here in the Pacific Northwest that we’ve been able to create and nurture thanks to the work of Funders Together. Having so many of the right players at the table makes our conversations – and all of our efforts – all the richer and more effective.

-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

Funders Together has given me a platform to engage the other funders in my community. Our local funding community has improved greatly to support housing first models and align of resources towards ending homelessness.

-Leslie Strnisha, Vice President at Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

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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