Brief Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Caseloads Early in the Pandemic
Experiences Varied by State
Eleanor Pratt, Heather Hahn
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This brief explores changes in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) caseloads during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. We examine changes to the national and state caseloads by calculating percent changes since before the pandemic began in February 2020. Overall, we find that the national caseload rose in the early months of the pandemic, peaking in June 2020, but fell below prepandemic levels by October 2020. Within the national caseload, state TANF caseload changes varied widely. In October 2020, caseloads ranged from 63 percent larger than prepandemic levels in Hawaii to 31 percent smaller in Mississippi. Between May 2020 and November 2020, most states’ caseloads differed from their February 2020 caseloads by no more or less than 10 percent. We also discuss the broader context that informs state caseload changes, including structural components of TANF that make it unlikely to respond to increased need, differential access to cash assistance by state, and states’ pandemic-related policy changes.


This brief was revised April 22, 2022. The title of figure 2 on page 3 has been corrected to say the national TANF caseload data start at October 2018. Figure 3 on page 4 shows that 25 states had larger TANF caseloads in June 2020 than in February 2020, 8 states had smaller, and 17 states had minimal changes; an earlier version, mistakenly labeled figure 5, said that 13 states had larger caseloads, 22 had smaller, and 16 had minimal changes. Figure 4 on page 5, previously mislabeled figure 6, now displays the state and territory caseloads with thin, gray lines and the US total caseloads with a thick, pink line to better convey that state caseloads varied widely. Table 1 has been added following figure 4 to provide more detail about the trends shown in figures 3 and 4. In addition, unused acronyms have been deleted from the notes for figures 1 through 4, the first two paragraphs on page 6, and note 2.

Research Areas Social safety net
Tags Assistance for women and children Families with low incomes From Safety Net to Solid Ground Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Welfare and safety net programs
Policy Centers Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population
Research Methods Data analysis