Making Effective Use of TANF

February 19, 2013  |  Publications

Innovative communities are demonstrating how the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program can be used more effectively to combat family homelessness. They have recognized that solving families’ housing crises is integral to their own mission of improving the long-term self-sufficiency of low-income families with children.

Homeless families have similar employment barriers and issues as other low-income families. They are not a separate population, but rather a subset of the families TANF agencies are charged with serving. Homelessness is not an uncommon experience for the families TANF agencies serve. One longitudinal study of families receiving TANF assistance found that over a three year period, one in four experienced a homeless episode, and almost half doubled up with other households to manage housing expenses.

Innovative communities are making use of TANF-funded short-term rent assistance to help families avoid or quickly escape homelessness. Employment services are also being mobilized to help re-housed parents quickly access sustainable employment so they can pay the rent on their own once the limited rent assistance ends. The short-term rent assistance and employment services are being used as part of a proven approach to address family homelessness, commonly referred to as rapid re-housing. Rapid re-housing programs return homeless families quickly back to housing, through providing help with the housing search and landlord negotiation, modest amounts of rent assistance, and time-limited services to help families find employment and stabilize in their new housing.

Rapid re-housing is designed to minimize the amount of time families are homeless. This reduces children’s exposure to the damaging effects of homelessness, and returns families to greater stability and normalcy in homes of their own. Once in stable housing, parents have the necessary platform to achieve stable employment and greater economic self-sufficiency.

Communities adopting rapid re-housing have shown dramatic impacts on reducing family homelessness. Directly, or in partnership with local homeless service providers, TANF agencies can provide the resources and expert help that homeless families require to move back into homes of their own and become self-sufficient through employment. Rapid re-housing is a perfect complement to the aims and philosophy of the TANF program. It provides limited and targeted assistance that is intended to help low-income families transition quickly from reliance on shelters and homeless service programs to self-reliance in housing of their own that they pay for with earnings from work.