Frequently Asked Questions

This page answers the most commonly asked questions regarding the Welfare Rules Database. If you have a question that you can’t find the answer to, please submit an inquiry using our contact form.

The annual Welfare Rules Databook describing policies as of July of a particular year is typically published in the last quarter of the following calendar year. The schedule may be delayed in some years. The Welfare Rules Database is updated with the additional year of data at the same point that the report becomes available.

We are happy to notify you when the new data and reports are released. Please submit an inquiry through our contact form and select the box to subscribe for occasional updates related to the WRD.

The WRD captures policy information on the TANF programs within Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands as of 2022. The Welfare Rules Database does not include information on federally recognized tribes administering their own TANF programs within a state.

The Welfare Rules Database tracks TANF and AFDC policies as early as 1996. Some state-level AFDC policy data may be available through other sources prior to 1996, but the amount of data available is dependent on the years and policies of interest. Two potential resources for pre-1996 data are described below.

Committee on Ways and Means, Green Books

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means has a Green Book archive that dates back to 1994. The Green Book provides historical policy information on the AFDC program. Information for AFDC can be found in Chapter 8 of the Green Book. Earlier versions of the Green Book were published back through 1981 but are not in the electronic archive. 

Transfer Income Model, version 3 (TRIM3)

The Urban Institute developed and maintains a microsimulation model, the Transfer Income Model, version 3 (TRIM3), primarily funded by and copyrighted by the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. TRIM3 includes a database of policy rules that goes back much farther than the WRD – to the mid-1970s for some policy areas.

The TRIM3 database should only be used for years that are not covered by the WRD. For the years covered by the Welfare Rules Database (1996 – current), the WRD is the source for the TRIM3 rules.

If you’d like to try using the TRIM3 database information to access AFDC policy information, you may first register as a data user. After you’ve received your user credentials, you can log in, select the Navigator tool, and select “Rules of Simulated Programs.” Within that tool you can do the following to access AFDC policy variables:

  1. In the first drop-down, select “AFDC”
  2. Select a “Year”
  3. Select a “State” or leave as “All states”

There are a few other caveats to keep in mind when using the TRIM3 data:

  • For more information on the rules and other TRIM3 information, reference TRIM3’s “Data Dictionary” tool.
  • The terminology and coding methods may differ between the WRD and the TRIM3 data.
  • In cases when information may have varied by substate area, the TRIM3 database generally shows the policy that applied to a majority of the state. However, there is no way to know with certainty what area of the state was coded.
  • In years before the early 1990s, the TRIM information on state-by-state variations came from various federal government sources, including sources that summarized the State Plan information. For the waiver period (early 1990s to 1996), the waivers were another source and are also reflected in the TRIM3 database information.

We recommend referencing only the most recently published Welfare Rules Databook report.

While older versions of the Welfare Rules Databook are available online, our historical data changes over time as we fix mistakes and clarify policies with states. The published Databook tables from older years reflect our best understanding of the policies at the time the tables were created, but do not always reflect later corrections or clarifications because we do not make changes to Databooks once they are published.

Unlike the Databooks, the Database is a live search tool that is corrected and updated over time. Users can use the Database to access historical policy information that isn’t found in the most recent report.

We calculate the maximum monthly benefit a family can receive in each state and territory and publish this information in the annual Welfare Rules Databook. Table II.A.4 captures the maximum monthly benefit for families of different sizes with no earned income for the most recent year. Table L5 captures the maximum monthly benefit for a family of three with no income across four years: 1996, the most recent year, and two additional intermediate years.

You can reproduce the values in Tables II.A.4 and L5, as well as calculate the maximum monthly benefit for additional years or family sizes using the logic and examples described below. Both the legacy and detailed variable names are included below and are described in greater detail in the data dictionary under the Benefit Computation and Dollar Amounts policy categories. When a state or territory has multiple records that cover the same period of time, we suggest using the one that pertains to the majority of the state or territory.

BenCompBenefitType (bc_btype) describes whether a state or territory pays a flat benefit regardless of a unit’s income or varies benefits by net income (i.e. income minus any disregards or deductions).

If a state or territory pays a flat amount, BenCompFlatDollarAmntUsed (bc_bflat) will display the dollar amount series the state or territory uses to compute benefits for a given family size. If, for instance, a state or territory pays a flat benefit equal to the value of dollar amount 2 for a given family’s size, the maximum benefit for a family of three is DollarAmounts2FamSize3 (da_v2f03).

If a state or territory varies benefits by net income, you will need to solve the formula in BenCompFormula (bc_bform) when net income equals $0 (for a family with no earnings). The variables corresponding to the terms in BenCompFormula are located in BenCompBenefitStandard (bc_bestd), BenCompMaxBenefit (bc_bemax), and BenCompPercentage (bc_bepct), respectively. Using those variables and the dollar amount values they point to, you should be able to calculate each state’s or territory’s maximum benefit for a given family size.

Here, we provide two simple examples on how to calculate the maximum monthly benefit for a family of three with no earnings and no unearned income:

  1. State or Territory A pays a flat benefit amount. BenCompBenefitType (bc_btype) is coded as “Flat amount”. BenCompFlatDollarAmntUsed (bc_bflat) notes that the flat benefit amount is determined by DollarAmountsName2 (da_name2). This Dollar Amounts series shows that DollarAmounts2FamSize3 (da_v2f03) is equal to $200, therefore the maximum monthly benefit for a family of 3 in State or Territory A is $200.
  2. State or Territory B varies benefits by net income. BenCompBenefitType (bc_btype) is coded as “Varies by net income,” so the next step is to solve the formula in BenCompFormula (bc_bform) when income equals $0. The formula is coded as “Percentage of Benefit Standard minus Net Income” and BenCompBenefitStandard (bc_bestd) indicates the benefit standard is determined by DollarAmountsName1 (da_name1). This Dollar Amounts series shows that DollarAmounts1FamSize3 (da_v2f03) is equal to $400. BenCompPercentage (bc_bepct) indicates the percentage used in the calculation is 50 percent. BenCompMaxBenefit (bc_bemax) is “n.a”, indicating there is no maximum benefit value that should be considered in this calculation. The family has no earnings and no unearned income, therefore their net income is $0 (for a family with income, you would need to subtract any income disregards, described in the Earned Income Disregards category). To solve the formula, plug each of these values in as follows: (0.50 * ($400 -$0)). Based on this calculation, the maximum monthly benefit for a family of three with no earnings in State or Territory B is $200.

We calculate the maximum earnings a family of three can receive and still be eligible for assistance in each state and territory and publish this information in the annual Welfare Rules Databook. Table I.E.4 captures the maximum earnings for initial eligibility for a family of three in the most recent year. Table L3 captures the maximum earnings for initial eligibility for a family of three across four years: 1996, the most recent year, and two additional intermediate years. Table IV.A.6 captures the maximum earnings for continuing eligibility for a family of three in months 2, 7, 13, and 24 of assistance.

It is possible to reproduce the values in these tables using the variables captured in the Benefit Computation, Dollar Amounts, Earned Income Disregards, and Income Eligibility Tests categories. A list of the relevant variables is included below.

While it is possible to calculate the maximum earnings yourself, it is a complicated process. A family may be ineligible because they fail an explicit eligibility test (e.g., a gross income test or a net income test), because they would not be eligible for a positive benefit when the benefit formula is applied to their net income, or because the benefit for which they are eligible is lower than the minimum amount required in that state or territory for technical eligibility.

In determining if a family passes a net income test, and in computing benefit amounts, you will need to factor in any earnings disregards (which may differ for net income tests vs. for benefit computation) and ensure you are using the correct series of dollar amounts for each aspect of eligibility and/or benefit computation. Finally, in states and territories with variations in any of the relevant policies by sub-state/territory area or by demographic group, you’ll need to be sure that you are using the database records for the desired area or group. (For example, we use dollar amounts for Region 1 of the state when we do these calculations for California in the annual Databook tables.)

Here, we provide some additional guidance for a very simple case – when a state or territory has no explicit income eligibility tests, when benefits are computed by subtracting net income from a payment standard, and with a family considered technically eligible if they are eligible for any positive benefit amount. In this case, the family is technically eligible until the point that their net income exceeds the payment standard. For example, assume that there are no explicit income tests (i.e., the only income test is that the family’s income produces a positive benefit), that the benefit equals the payment standard minus net income, and that net income equals gross income minus 30 percent of earnings. In that simple case, a family whose only income is from earnings remains eligible as long as (70 percent of) earnings is less than the payment standard for their family size. 

The formula becomes more complicated as other rules come into play -- gross income tests, net income tests, more complicated ways of computing benefits (e.g., only paying a percentage of the “income deficit”), and more complex ways of computing net income. You should also keep in mind that the point when eligibility is lost may differ for initial eligibility vs. continuing eligibility, due to different rules for applicants and ongoing recipients. In the case of continuing eligibility, the point when eligibility is lost may differ depending on the number of months that the family has been combining work and TANF, due to some states and territories varying the earnings disregard over time.

Finally, the point when benefits are lost differs depending on whether a family’s income comes from earnings, unearned income, or both. The tables that capture this in the Databook assume that all of a family’s income is from earnings, and the footnotes describe additional assumptions that are made in computing these amounts for families in the annual Databook.

The categories and variables needed to reproduce the values in Tables I.E.4, IV.A.6, and L3 include:


Detailed Variable Name

Legacy Variable Name

Dollar amounts
























Benefit computation



























Earned income disregards













































Income eligibility tests