The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program provides assistance and benefits to the neediest of families in the United States. This federal program aids qualifying very low-income families with financial assistance and other benefits in order to help families rise from poverty levels and become more self-sufficient.

To receive benefits from the TANF program, you and your family must meet eligibility requirements, including income- and work-related guidelines. Eligibility for the program must be maintained for the entire length of time that your family receives benefits.

TANF benefits are administered through state programs that follow federal guidelines. Therefore, each state may have slight variances between eligibility requirements or the exact income limits that are imposed as program criteria. Therefore, it is important to learn more about the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program before submitting an application.

What is TANF?

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program is a federal welfare program that provides monthly financial assistance to needy families who qualify. Each state program is operated on a state level under a federal guideline. Due to the variation between state programs, you may experience additional eligibility requirements that must be met, varying income guidelines or other discrepancies between one state program and another.

By the TANF definition, the program exists in an effort to accomplish four goals. These four goals are:

  • To provide monetary assistance to needy families so that the household children can be cared for within their own homes or the homes of a relative
  • To end federal government dependency and assist families in becoming more self-sufficient by promoting work, job preparation and marriage
  • To reduce the amount of out-of-wedlock pregnancies as well as establish goals for reducing incidences of out-of-wedlock pregnancies
  • To encourage the formation and stability of a two-parent family and marriage

Families who are eligible for TANF will receive monetary assistance each month that they remain eligible. The amount of financial assistance that a qualifying family will receive is based upon several factors, including household size and household income.

What is the difference between AFDC and TANF?

While AFDC and TANF benefits are similar, AFDC was a U.S. welfare system for about sixty years. AFDC was eventually replaced with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. The AFDC program was ended in the United States as of July 1st, 1997. However, many states within America chose to switch to the welfare system prior to the 1997 cutoff date.

Who can apply for TANF?

To receive TANF benefits, you and your family must meet eligibility requirements that are determined by federal guidelines and state programs. These eligibility requirements include but are not limited to family composition, income and work-related qualifications.

Learn About TANF Family Composition Requirements

The TANF program is only available for families that have at least one dependent child who is 18 years of age or younger living within the home. Families and households without a child do not qualify for TANF regardless of income levels or other qualifications that may be met.

Some state programs make exceptions for pregnant women who do not have other children living within the home. In these states, it is common for a woman to be required to be at or beyond a certain stage in pregnancy before becoming eligible for program benefits. For example, Alaska approves pregnant women who meet other qualifications for TANF after seven months into a pregnancy.

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About TANF Income and Asset Limits

TANF is designed to provide assistance to the neediest of families in America. Therefore, income guidelines are placed in each state. To receive assistance, applicants must be considered to have low or very low income.

Income guidelines are set by household size. The larger the household, the larger the amount of income that a family can have while still qualifying for benefits.

In addition to meeting income guidelines, most families who are seeking TANF benefits must not exceed asset limits. Asset limits and property that is considered an “asset” vary from one state to the next. Depending on the state, assets may include saved finances, vehicles and owned property. However, there are a handful of states, such as Alabama, that does not require families to meet asset limits.

About TANF Work-Related Qualifications

If approved for the TANF program, your family must work with your state program to meet work-related qualifications. Depending on your state, you may be required to participate in a specified number of hours per week in work programs, educational courses, volunteer programs or employment.

These continued-eligibility requirements may begin as soon as you begin to receive benefits or after a set period of time depending on your state program and situation. Should you fail to meet work-related eligibility requirements as outlined by your state program, you may lose your TANF cash assistance due to a loss of eligibility.

How to Review TANF Benefits

Once approved, TANF benefits are provided on the same day each month regardless of whether or not that date falls on a holiday or weekend. Benefit amounts are determined by several factors, including household income and family size. Depending on your state program, you may receive benefits by:

  • Paper check.
  • An Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card.
  • An Electronic Payment card (EPC).

Your TANF benefits can be used to pay for a variety of household costs, including rental payments, food, clothes and household supplies. Benefits cannot be used towards the purchase of prohibited items, such as:

  • Illegal items.
  • Alcohol.
  • Tobacco.
  • Tattoos or piercings.
  • Gambling.
  • Adult items.

Should you use TANF to purchase an item that is prohibited, you could face the loss or reduction of your benefits. Therefore, it is important to go over what you can and cannot use your benefits for carefully with your state agency representative.

How to Apply for TANF

If you would like to apply for TANF, you will need to contact your state agency. Depending on your state program, you may be able to apply online, by mail, over the phone or at your local office.

When submitting an application for TANF, you will be required to provide personal information about yourself and each of your family members. You may also need to submit several documents to support the information on your application, including proof of income for all household members.

After you have submitted your TANF application, you will need to complete an interview with a caseworker that will be assigned to your family’s case. Your caseworker will inform you of any additional documentation that you must provide to your local office. If you have any additional questions about the TANF program, it is essential that you go over your questions with your caseworker.

You will be notified after a decision has been made regarding your family’s eligibility for TANF. If you are eligible to receive benefits, the notice will also include the amount of benefits that you are eligible to receive as well as any eligibility requirements that you must meet for continued eligibility.

If you are denied benefits or you do not agree with any decision that was made by your local office, you have the right to an appeal. Your notice will include information about the appeal process, including how to file an appeal and the date that you must file by if you intend to do so.

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