The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program provides grants to states to design and operate programs that accomplish one of the purposes of the program. Specifically, TANF plays a crucial role in offering relief to low-income families through increased access to child care and early education opportunities, which helps parents to enter or return to the workforce.

Since its creation in 1996 as a replacement for Aid to Families with Dependent Children, federal regulations and guidance have allowed TANF funds to support or expand a broad range of child care and early education initiatives in states. Among other uses, current law allows states to transfer up to 30 percent of its TANF funds to the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which provides child care assistance for disadvantaged families and funds child care quality initiatives. Further, regulatory guidance specifically allows states to spend TANF funds for early education.

While states have great flexibility in how they decide to spend their block grant funds, they must do so consistent with the purposes of the law. Additionally, TANF funding is intended to supplement, not supplant, initiatives underway in states and territories to broaden educational supports including child care, pre-kindergarten, Head Start, and kindergarten.

TANF was last reauthorized in 2006 and expired September 30, 2018, but received an extension through December 21, 2018. In the 115th Congress, the House considered H.R. 5861, the Jobs and Opportunity with Benefits and Services (JOBS) for Success Act, which would have reauthorized TANF through FY 2023. The House Committee on Ways and Means reported the bill favorably with amendments, and the bill was placed on the calendar in June 2018 with no further action. In the Senate, S. 3700 would have reauthorized TANF through 2021.

Much of the progress at the state and local levels around investments in early childhood education has been made possible through strong partnerships with the federal government aimed at expanding access and increasing quality. As Congress considers reauthorization of TANF, there is a significant opportunity to recognize the unmistakable role quality early childhood experiences play in helping to break the cycle of poverty. FFYF believes this can be done by reinforcing the connection between federal dollars and quality programs including expanding connections to CCDBG for all TANF funded child care; identifying ways to sustain child care funding in order to support TANF families; protecting the states’ ability to use federal funds to strengthen their own early care and learning initiatives; and ensuring states are supplementing rather than supplanting their own spending with TANF dollars.

This program was extended through the end of FY2021 as part of H.R. 133, a package of bills enacted in December 2020 that also included annual government appropriations and COVID-19 relief.

Current Use of Funds:

In FY2019, all 50 states and the District of Columbia transferred some amount of their TANF funds to early care and learning programs. In total, $7.6 billion of federal TANF funds and state maintenance of effort (MOE) funds went to early care and learning expenditures. Learn more about how states leveraged TANF funds in FY 2019 to support early care and learning.

Click here to view proposed funding levels of other early childhood education and care programs for FY21.