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Understanding Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, otherwise known as TANF, is a government initiative that offers short-term financial benefits to households in need. In general, these funds are distributed by state governments to qualifying low-income families. In certain states, the TANF program is known by different names, such as Aid to Dependent Children in Nebraska. To get TANF benefits, households must meet certain eligibility requirements. These include income limitations and the presence of children in the household. Overall, this program is meant to give aid for families that include children who are younger than 19 years of age.

In many states, residents can apply for TANF online. However, mail-in and in-person applications are often available as well. To qualify, applicants must submit income, identification and expense documents. Eligible families get TANF cash help for a limited time in order to purchase food and other necessary household items. In addition, recipients who are 18 years of age or older will be mandated to participate in work or training programs. Continue reading below to learn about TANF assistance and how it can help low-income families financially.

What is TANF?

Low-income residents may wonder, “what is TANF?” In general, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program gives federally funded, state-run benefits to low-income families through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

This program primarily gives temporary cash help for households with children in order to be able to afford necessary products like food, school supplies and clothes. In any case, this temporary help is designed to help financially needy families achieve self-sufficiency through the implementation of at least one of the following goals:

  • Encourage the maintenance of two-parent households.
  • Reduce the number of out-of-wedlock pregnancies.
  • Assist needy families so that children can be cared for in the household.
  • Reduce parents’ dependence on benefits programs by promoting job preparation, work and marriage.

Nonetheless, all states are mandated to allocate a certain amount of their allotted funds toward specific TANF benefits, such as cash help and job preparation programs.

What are TANF requirements?

Households must meet certain TANF eligibility requirements to get benefits. These requirements include the following:

  • Citizenship or legal resident status
  • Household income
  • Employment status
  • Presence of children in the household

First and foremost, an applicant for TANF assistance must be a legal resident of the state he or she resides in. Overall, both citizens and legal resident aliens are able to apply. In addition, the program’s eligibility criteria is based on TANF income limits. Therefore, families whose total income is within federal poverty limits are eligible for benefits. While the exact amount varies from state to state, it is generally lower than $2,000 per month for a family of one mother caring for two children (a three-person household).

TANF eligibility requirements that regard to income also include the assets that a family owns. In most states, a household must not own over $2,000 in assets, excluding one family car, in order to qualify for TANF. Otherwise, certain states have limits on the equity of the car before it is considered a countable asset. The same guidelines may apply to family homes.

Households are required to have at least one child who is younger than 19 years of age in order to qualify to apply for TANF. As a general rule, any of the following types of households can be eligible for TANF benefits:

  • Child-only families – The caregiver is not eligible for assistance, but the child is.
  • Children with non-parent relatives – The child is in the care of a relative because the parent is unable to care for him or her.
  • Single-parent families – A household in which only one parent is caring for the child or children.
  • Two-parent families – A household in which both parents are present and caring for their child or children.

Note: Certain states consider pregnant women with no other children eligible to get TANF assistance, while others require them to give birth first.

Despite not being a prerequisite for obtaining cash help, approved beneficiaries must fulfill work requirements in order to remain eligible for this program’s funds. Generally, the amount of work hours required per household depends on who the caretakers are and how many adults are present and able to work in those households. In addition, all children must be attending school and be up to date on their immunizations.

How do you apply for TANF?

There are several ways to apply for TANF. Overall, applicants can apply in person at a local Department of Human Services or Department of Health branch. In some states, these offices are known under different names or found within different divisions, such as the Division of Families and Children Services in Georgia or the Department of Social Services in New York. In any case, qualifying households can either turn in a filled out TANF application form that was printed out at home or complete one in person.

Furthermore, applying for TANF benefits can also be done via mail. Residents typically have the option of printing out the proper form, filling it out and sending it to an office in their county through the mail. Some offices may allow residents to fax these application forms as well. On the other hand, certain states prefer applicants to apply for TANF online through their official portals. More often than not, applying online is the fastest and easiest method for beneficiaries to start receiving funds.

There are several pieces of information that a household must submit when applying for TANF. For example, applicants must submit documents to verify the following:

  • Identities of all household members
  • Mailing address
  • Household expenses
  • Social Security Numbers (SSNs)
  • Sources of income
  • Citizenship status
  • Proof of disability or pregnancy
  • Medical bills (if applicable)
  • School attendance

Learn About Tribal TANF

Members of Native-American tribes can apply for Tribal TANF. This program functions the same as the statewide TANF, except that a local tribe will have authority over the allocation of benefits. Generally, several Native-American tribes partner with the TANF program, allowing its residents to benefit from these federal funds.

What are TANF benefits?

Applicants can begin to get TANF benefits once they are accepted into the program. Once approved, households will be given a monthly allowance of cash help. A common question that beneficiaries ask is “how much money do you get from TANF?” Overall, this amount varies depending on the following factors:

  • The family’s income
  • The amount of people in the household
  • The state where the family resides

In general, larger families with lower incomes get a greater amount of TANF assistance funds in comparison to smaller families with higher incomes. Moreover, households with fewer caretakers, pregnant women or disabled members can qualify to get more benefits. The state where an enrollee resides is also a significant determinant in regards to the amount of TANF benefits that he or she can get. That is because certain states have a much higher cost of living. For example, a family of three with one parent can get a little less than $300 per month in benefits in Indiana, whereas the same family in New York can get almost $800.

Households are usually awarded benefits through an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card, which is also referred to as a TANF card. Generally, this card functions just like a debit card. Recipients are also able to get payments by mail in the form of a check.

How long do TANF benefits last?

Beneficiaries commonly ask, “how long do TANF benefits last?” The length of time that a household can get these funds depends on:

  • The laws set in place by the state where the family resides.
  • The need of the family.
  • The type of household the family lives in.

In general, families that have met the TANF eligibility criteria can continue to get benefits for 45 to 60 months, depending on the state. If a particular household has qualified for TANF through the means of a child or a disabled family member, then its eligibility status will be maintained for as long as those beneficiaries are eligible to get these funds.

Find out About Extensions

Certain qualifying households may be able to get an extension on their temporary assistance benefits. This extension depends on the presence of residents who are older than 60 years of age, disabled and not collecting Social Security Income (SSI). Moreover, these extensions also take into consideration pregnant women who cannot work and/or have been victims of domestic violence. In most cases, TANF program extensions on benefits are also limited to a maximum of 12 months.