The provision of public assistance to families with children in America faced a watershed moment with the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA). PRWORA replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, which was an entitlement funded via a federal-state matching grant, with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which is no longer an entitlement and is financed with a fixed federal block-grant to the states. The impetus for reform had been building for at least the two decades prior to passage, but took on greater currency with the dramatic growth in AFDC caseloads in the early 1990s, with then-Governor Clinton’s vow to “end welfare as we know it” during the 1992 presidential campaign, and with states expansive experimentation with waivers from federal AFDC rules during President Clinton’s first term in office. The state waivers included some elements from prior reform efforts—such as work requirements for benefit eligibility and sanctions for failing to work or participate in a training program—but with teeth. In addition, some states adopted radical new features such as time limits on benefit receipt. Not to be outdone, the Congress jumped on the reform bandwagon and codified some of the waivers into PRWORA, but also added their own twist, including the move to block-grant financing. These policy changes led to a flurry of social science research on the effects of the reform on welfare participation, employment, consumption, saving, health, family structure, and maternal and child well being. The aim of this chapter is to review the research on the TANF program, with a particular emphasis on those studies conducted since the surveys by Blank (2002, 2009), Moffitt (2003), and Grogger and Karoly (2005).

Document Type

Research Paper

Publication Date


Discussion Paper Number

DP 2015-01

Notes/Citation Information

Prepared for the NBER Conference Means-Tested Transfer Programs in the United States: Volume II December 5-6, 2014 Boston, MA.