Following sweeping changes made to federal welfare policy in 1996 with the creation of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, the number of needy families who received cash assistance fell by more than half to 1.7 million in 2008. Poverty among children also fell from about 21 percent in 1995 to about 16 percent in 2000, rising again to 19 percent in 2008. The current recession deepened in 2008, raising questions about state TANF programs' response to increased needs. GAO was asked to provide Congress with information on the (1) factors contributing to the decline in the number of families receiving assistance; (2) characteristics of participating and nonparticipating eligible families; (3) impact of higher participation in TANF cash assistance on child poverty; and (4) changes states are experiencing in caseloads and spending in the current recession. GAO's methodologies included using microsimulation analyses; reviewing relevant research and federal laws; interviewing TANF officials in 21 selected states; analyzing state cash assistance data; and interviewing researchers, federal officials, and other experts.
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