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October 2022Vol. 23, No. 8Supporting Families Experiencing Homelessness: Strategies and Approaches for TANF Agencies

Federal programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) can help mitigate the financial difficulties faced by low-income families by giving states, tribes, and local jurisdictions the ability to apply for block grants that give them a wide latitude to provide an array of supports and services to people currently or at risk of experiencing homelessness. 

The Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation within the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services contracted with Abt Associates and its partner, MEF Associates, to conduct a study to evaluate how states and localities are currently using TANF funds to support families experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness. The brief, Supporting Families Experiencing Homelessness: Strategies and Approaches for TANF Agencies, answers the following research questions:

  • To what extent are TANF agencies across the country using TANF funds to serve and support families experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness?
  • What approaches and strategies are TANF agencies using to serve these families?
  • What do those findings mean for TANF policymakers and leaders from continuums of care (regional, state, or local planning bodies that coordinate housing, services, and funding for those experiencing homelessness)?

For the study, researchers conducted a two-phase scan of TANF agency practices in 2018 and 2019. First, the researchers conducted a systematic document review of 25 state TANF plans as well as an online survey of all state and territory TANF administrators and a sample of three regional or county TANF administrators in each state. Next, they further examined sites in five communities to gain indepth information about how TANF programs use TANF and maintenance-of-effort funds to help families experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness.

The report noted the following findings and implications:

  • Local TANF agencies often focus on helping families experiencing homelessness in response to state policy guidance.
  • TANF agencies should consider tradeoffs between operating a housing assistance program and providing funding to local organizations with more expertise.
  • Local homeless service providers, continuums of care, and public housing agencies are key partners in the effective implementation of programs that use TANF funds to serve families experiencing homelessness.
  • TANF agencies should consider fully integrating employment services and job training with any housing assistance funded by TANF. More consideration for how these housing-focused programs can benefit from existing TANF resources may help strengthen and streamline case management efforts.
  • TANF agencies should consider braiding their funding with other public and private funding streams to amplify their ability to help families experiencing homelessness.
  • Continuums of care can offer expertise on supporting families experiencing homelessness by providing knowledge and training to TANF staff.

The brief also provides considerations for TANF administrators and continuums of care leadership as well as profiles of sites from Atlanta, GA; Boulder County, CO; Mercer County, NJ; Nashville, TN; and Shasta County, CA.

To learn more about how states are developing and implementing TANF programs and services, read the brief, Supporting Families Experiencing Homelessness: Strategies and Approaches for TANF Agencies.