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The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant makes $16.5 billion available to states each year, regardless of changes in the number of people receiving benefits. To qualify for their full TANF allotments, states must spend a certain amount of state money, referred to as maintenance-of-effort funds. As states implemented work-focused reforms during the strong economy of the 1990s, welfare caseloads dropped by more than 50 percent. GAO found that most former welfare recipients were employed at some point after leaving welfare, typically with earnings that did not raise them above the poverty level. Under welfare reform, spending shifted from monthly cash payments to services, such as child care and transportation. This shift reflects two key features of reform. First, many states have increased spending to engage more welfare families in work-related activities and to provide more intensive services. Second, many states have increased their efforts to provide services to low-income families not receiving welfare. Services for these families include child care, case management, and job retention and advancement services for families who have recently left welfare for employment as well as other low-income working families. Although states have the flexibility under TANF to use their federal and state welfare-related funds to provide services to families not receiving monthly cash assistance, these families are not reflected in caseload data reported to the Department of Health and Human Services. As a result, caseload data do not provide a complete picture of the number of families receiving benefits and services through TANF.

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