Are states allowed to have a family cap as part of their Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families legislation (TANF) was designed to transform the welfare program in American government.  One way in which it sought to do that was to transfer much of welfare responsibilities to state governments.  It was argued that state governments at the localized level would be able to better establish how funds should be distributed.  It also sought to change "welfare" from a government program that fostered dependence to a system of temporary needs that were met by local agencies in which individuals would display independence on the path back to gainful employment.

One way of state administering of funds was seen was through the establishment of family caps. One motivating factor in passing TANF was to reduce the number of children born into impoverished and economically challenging circumstances.  Such an element was accomplished through a number of states adopting family caps: 

TANF allowed states to impose family caps on the receipt of additional cash benefits from unwed childbearing. Between 1994 and 1999, unwed childbearing among teenagers declined 20 percent among 15-17 year olds and 10 percent among 18-19 year olds.

States were able to utilize the provisions in TANF to "deny additional benefits or reduce the cash grant to families who have additional children while on assistance."  The establishment of family caps was an significant part of the program.  It enabled states to be able to exert control over what they saw as increasing a pattern of dependence. Critics of the policy felt that family caps unfairly targeted poor women, operating on the premise of there being a "condemnation of  presumedly immoral behavior." Yet, in the legislation, President Clinton's desire to "move to the center" was evident in taking one of the stalwarts of American liberalism and adding states interest and a hardline approach of family caps that would appeal to Republicans and those to the right of political spectrum in its passage.