A Longitudinal Database Tracking State and Territory AFDC/TANF Policies

The Welfare Rules Database provides a comprehensive, sophisticated resource for anyone comparing cash assistance programs between states and territories, researching changes in cash assistance rules within a single state or territory, or simply looking for the most up-to-date information on the rules governing cash assistance in one state or territory.

The Welfare Rules Database includes:

  • A detailed database of AFDC/TANF rules in effect for all 50 states and the District of Columbia by state for years 1996 through 2022. Beginning in 2022, the Welfare Rules Database also captures policies in the three territories that operate TANF programs: Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
  • Information on rules that are in effect at a point in time (not proposals or legislation). Caseworker manuals are used to identify program rules. State and territory administrators review the Databook tables for each state/territory to assure accuracy.
  • A point-and-click interface for querying the database. While the search engine is easy to use, state and territory cash assistance programs are complex. Please review the User's Guide and Data Dictionary to help you effectively frame the question you want to answer.
  • The standard rule that affects most of the caseload for most of the year. The standard rule is available by state/territory, year, and category of rule.
  • Variations to the standard rule. This information details differences across geographic areas within a state or territory, groups of recipients within a state or territory, or months of the year.


Since the early 1990s, researchers and policy makers have had an increasingly difficult time understanding how states operate their cash assistance programs for needy families. The complexity of welfare programs increased in the early 1990s, as more states received waivers to experiment with their welfare programs. The increase in state waivers began shifting the control of cash assistance from the federal government to the states. (All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands operated an AFDC program and have operated the TANF program. The Welfare Rules Database did not track early TANF and AFDC policies in the territories, therefore we limit discussion of historical policies to the 50 states and D.C.)

This shift culminated in the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) in August of 1996. This legislation replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). TANF greatly increased the flexibility states have to design and implement their cash assistance programs. This change increased the degree of variation across state and territory programs - as well as the difficulty of tracking program rules.

Welfare Rules Get More Complex

Under AFDC, the federal Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) established a program structure for cash assistance which did not vary across states. DHHS gave states a limited number of options to set their own income eligibility limits, benefits levels, and eligibility requirements for two-parent families. As a result, differences in AFDC programs across states could be researched easily using the AFDC State Plans that DHHS required states to submit and/or through documents prepared by the Administration for Children and Families.

The ability to track state cash assistance rules became much more complex in the mid-1990s when many states received waivers to experiment with new policies, such as family caps and time limits. These waivers also allowed states to modify the structure of their AFDC programs previously set by the federal government. These changes were described in the Waiver Terms and Conditions agreed upon by the state and federal government. Since the Terms and Conditions did not address certain implementation details and the implementation schedules often changed after the agreement was reached, the information available at DHHS was no longer comprehensive.

The replacement of AFDC with TANF made tracking states' policies even more difficult. The TANF State Plans submitted to DHHS generally lacked sufficient information to completely understand the details of eligibility, benefit computation, and client requirements. This detailed information could only be obtained from state regulations, caseworker manuals and/or interviews with state administrators.

The Welfare Rules Database Is Born

Given the difficulties associated with researching state TANF policies, there was a need to establish a single location where the broad range of welfare stakeholders could research information on program rules across states and across time. The Urban Institute's Assessing the New Federalism (ANF) project responded to that need in 1997 with the creation of the Welfare Rules Database (WRD). We envisioned the WRD as a resource for researchers working on both descriptive and quantitative projects.

The WRD provides a longitudinal account of the changes in welfare rules in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. As of 2022, the WRD also includes information on welfare rules for Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The WRD organizes the detailed information on welfare rules across states/territories, time, geographic areas within states, and different types of assistance units. Caseworker manuals and state regulations provide the data from 1997 to the present, while AFDC State Plans and Waiver Terms and Conditions provide the data for years prior to 1997.

For more information on policy categories, the coding manual, and the data dictionary, go to the associated links.


Funding for the development and first four years of coding of the WRD was provided by Assessing the New Federalism (ANF). The project received funding from The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, The Ford Foundation, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, The McNight Foundation, The Commonwealth Fund, the Stuart Foundation, the Weingart Foundation, The Fund for New Jersey, The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, and The Rockefeller Foundation.

The Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (HHS/ACF) began funding the WRD project during the 2000 update. Currently, the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (HHS/ACF/OPRE) funds the collection of data and maintenance of the WRD.

Key Project Staff

To contact us, please utilize our contact form.

Girley Wright, Federal Project Officer
Linda Giannarelli, Project Director
Ilham Dehry, Co-Project Director
Sarah Knowles, Project Manager
Lauren Simpson, Research Analyst
Kevin Moclair, Research Assistant
Sarah Minton, Senior Advisor
Jessica Kelly, Database Design and Support