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Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Helping Families Move from Welfare to Work

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Couple paying bills at home. Mother is holding her baby boy.
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Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is federally funded - state administered - financial assistance program for low income families with dependent children and for pregnant women in their last three months of pregnancy. TANF provides temporary financial assistance while also helping recipients find jobs that will allow them to support themselves.

In 1996, TANF replaced old welfare programs, including the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. Today, TANF provides yearly grants to all U.S. states, territories and tribal governments. The funds are used to pay for benefits and services distributed by the states to assist needy families.

Goals of TANF
In order to get their annual TANF grants, the states must show that they are operating their TANF programs in a way that accomplishes the following goals:

  • assisting needy families so that children can be cared for in their own homes
  • reducing the dependency of needy parents by promoting job preparation, work and marriage
  • preventing out-of-wedlock pregnancies
  • encouraging the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.
Applying for TANF
While the overall TANF program is administered by the federal Administration for Children and Families, each state is responsible for setting its own specific financial eligibility requirements, and accepting and considering applications for assistance.

General Eligibility
TANF is a cash assistance program for families with dependent children and for pregnant women in their last three months of pregnancy. To be eligible, you must be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen and a resident of the state in which you are applying for assistance. Eligibility for TANF depends upon the applicant's income, resources and the presence of a dependent child under age 18, or under age 20 if the child is a full-time student in high school or in a high school equivalency program. Specific eligibility requirements vary from state-to-state.

Financial Eligibility
TANF is for families whose incomes and resources are not enough to meet the basic needs of their children. Each state sets maximum income and resource (cash, bank accounts, etc.) limits above which families will not qualify for TANF.

Work and School Requirements
With few exceptions, TANF recipients must work as soon as they are job-ready or no later than two years after beginning to get TANF assistance. Some people, such as the disabled and seniors, are given a participation waiver and do not have to work to qualify. Children and unmarried minor teen parents must meet school attendance requirements established by the state TANF program.
  • To count toward a state's work participation rate, single parents must participate in work activities for an average of 30 hours per week, or an average of 20 hours per week if they have a child under age six. Two-parent families must participate in work activities for an average of 35 hours a week or, if they receive Federal child care assistance, 55 hours a week.
  • Failure to participate in work requirements can result in a reduction or termination of a family's benefits.
     
  • States cannot penalize single parents with a child under six for failing to meet work requirements if they cannot find adequate child care.
Qualifying Work Activities
Activities that count toward a state's work participation rates include:
  • unsubsidized or subsidized employment
  • work experience
  • on-the-job training
  • job search and job readiness assistance - not to exceed 6 weeks in a 12-month period and no more than 4 consecutive weeks (but up to 12 weeks if a State meets certain conditions)
  • community service
  • vocational educational training -- not to exceed 12 months
  • job skills training related to work
  • education directly related to employment
  • satisfactory secondary school attendance
  • providing child care services to individuals who are participating in community service.
TANF Benefit Time Limits
The TANF program is intended to provide temporary financial assistance while the recipients seek employment that will allow them to fully support themselves and their families. As a result, families with an adult who has received federally-funded assistance for a total of five years (or less at state option) become ineligible for cash aid under the TANF program. States do have the option of extending federal benefits beyond 5 years and may also choose to provide extended assistance to families using state-only funds or other federal Social Services Block Grant funds available to the state.

TANF Program Contact Information:
Mailing Address:
Office of Family Assistance
Administration for Children and Families
370 L'Enfant Promenade, SW
Washington, DC 20447
Phone: 202.401.9275
FAX: 202.205.5887

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