Across the nation, child welfare services and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant are intricately linked. TANF, the 1996 replacement for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), is a critical funding source for child welfare services while also being the main source of cash assistance to many of the same or similar families. A series of state surveys by the Urban Institute and Child Trends, funded by Annie E Casey and Casey Family Programs1 consistently shows that the TANF block grant provides approximately 22 percent of the federal funds spent by states on a range of child welfare services. At the same time many of the challenges faced by families involved with child welfare revolve around vital human services such as housing, financial assistance, and access to needed services. The biggest overlap between the two programs occurs in the provision of kinship care assistance to families caring for relative children.

In 2008, with the enactment of the Foster Connections to Success and Promoting Adoptions Act (PL 110-351), Congress allowed states to use Title IV-E foster care funds to provide subsidized guardianship/kinship care. Since its creation, 32 states have taken this Title IV-E option. Those states use Title IV-E for kinship care for children who have been in state custody and TANF “child-only” grants for relative care, presumably for families that only need financial support. The remaining 19 other states2 have not taken the Title IV-E option and instead require relatives to either become licensed/approved foster care parents or rely on TANF for kinship care support.

Generally a TANF-funded kinship care grant is larger than a typical TANF cash assistance grant to a poor family. At the same time these TANF kinship care grants provide less cash support than what is provided under Title IV-E kinship care programs.

There is a fiscal incentive for states to use only TANF to assist kinship caregivers. The state spending requirements for federal and state TANF funds are locked based on the original act’s formula set nearly twenty years ago. In other words state spending requirements for and receipt of federal funding for TANF has never grown since 1996. In contrast, Title IV-E funds are not locked in and states have to provide a match in state dollars to draw federal funds for kinship. Under Title IV-E, state and federal funding goes up or down according to need and the eligibility of children served.

This paper takes a closer look at this TANF kinship care population and seeks to raise some policy questions in regard to kinship care, TANF funding, and the cross-over between child welfare and TANF. It is an attempt to inform future policy decisions in regard to the two federal programs and raise questions about the best way to assist some of the country’s most vulnerable families and children.

For questions or comments, contact John Sciamanna at jsciamanna@cwla.org.

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