What Is TANF And How Does It Work

TANF stands for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. It is a federal assistance program created by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act instituted under President Bill Clinton in 1996. It provides temporary financial assistance to needy individuals and families, while at the same time attempts to get people self-sufficient and off of welfare through employment opportunities.

For the most part, the maximum time limit to be on TANF is 60 months in a person's lifetime. However, some states have setup shorter periods. States have also been given the right to eliminate payments to recipients altogether. TANF recipients are required to find a job within 24 months of receiving aid.

In enforcing the 60-month time limit, some states place limits on the adult portion of the assistance only, while still aiding the otherwise eligible children in the household. The state TANF program is designed to accomplish four goals:

  • To provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives
  • To end the dependency of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage
  • To prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of these pregnancies and
  • To encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families

States are given a lot of flexibility to administrate the TANF program for their state. The states and not the Federal government decide the design of the program, the type and amount of assistance payments, the range of other services to be provided, and the rules for determining who is eligible for benefits.

Receiving TANF payments

The monthly cash stipend provided by the TANF program is usually put on a debit like card called an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. Recipients can use it like a normal debit card to pay for items like rent, day care, food, clothes and other items.

Qualifying for TANF benefits

To qualify for TANF in your state depends on the household income and the number of dependents in the household. Because the TANF program is administrated at the state level, the eligibility, benefits level and time limit can be different from state to state. To find out what the application process is for your state, view the how to apply for TANF benefits page.

For the most part, states do require families applying for TANF cash assistance to both meet income eligibility criteria and have assets below a certain amount. The most common asset limit is $2,000 or less.

However, in recent years there have been states, like Ohio and Colorado, that have eliminated asset tests for eligibility and base financial eligibility on income alone.

How much money can I get with TANF?

The amount of cash you can receive from the TANF program can vary from state to state. For example, a family of three, the maximum TANF benefit paid in 2016 varied from $170 per month in Mississippi to $923 per month in Alaska. Below is the monthly TANF benefits level as of July 2018 for a single-parent family of three.

Monthly TANF benefit levels

State Monthly Amount
Alabama $215
Alaska $923
Arizona $278
Arkansas $204
California $714
Colorado $462
Connecticut $698
Delaware $338
DC $576
Florida $303
Georgia $280
Hawaii $610
Idaho $309
Illinois $432
Indiana $288
Iowa $426
Kansas $429
Kentucky $262
Louisiana $240
Maine $582
Maryland $677
Massachusetts $618
Michigan $492
Minnesota $532
Mississippi $170
Missouri $292
Montana $588
Nebraska $450
Nevada $383
New Hampshire $1,039
New Jersey $454
New Mexico $447
New York $789
North Carolina $272
North Dakota $486
Ohio $483
Oklahoma $292
Oregon $506
Pennsylvania $421
Rhode Island $554
South Carolina $286
South Dakota $615
Tennessee $185
Texas $290
Utah $498
Vermont $640
Virginia $419
Washington $569
West Virginia $340
Wisconsin $653
Wyoming $675

TANF work requirements

Families who receive TANF benefits usually do not get income from any other sources. Without it, most families would not be able to meet their basic needs. However, part of the requirements for the TANF program is the adult recipients are expected to participate in work activities for an average of 30 hours per week, or gain employment no later than two years upon receiving assistance.

Single parents must participate in a work activity for a minimum of 20 hours per week if they have a child under age 6. 30 hours if the child is over age 6. To count toward the work requirement, you must participate in one or more of the following:

  • Unsubsidized or subsidized employment
  • On-the-job training
  • Community service
  • Up to 12 months of vocational education or
  • Provide child care services to individuals who are participating in community service

Failure to comply with the TANF work requirements will have your benefits reduced or revoked. The details for the work requirements could vary from state to state. We recommend checking out the how to apply for TANF page to see what the work requirements are in your state.

If you still have questions or issues about the TANF program, we recommend you contact your local welfare office. To find a location, view a list of welfare offices near you.