Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)

What is TANF?

Temporary Aid to Needy Families is a program that provides cash assistance to families with dependent children for a limited time while helping them become self-sufficient.

What are the time limits?

You can only get TANF for 5 years. This limit applies to all adults and heads of households. The clock on your 5 years started 3/3/97 or if you did not get TANF until after that date, the day you began getting cash assistance. Adults who reach the 5 year limit cannot collect TANF for themselves or their children. If you get any benefits from TANF during a month, even if you only receive $1, that month will count as one month against your 5 year limit. Periods of receipt need not be consecutive to count towards the 5 year limit.

Are there any cases where the 5 year limit does not apply?

The 5 year time limit does not apply to “child only” assistance cases. Not every adult can collect “child only” benefits. Natural/adoptive parents who live with their children must be included on the TANF grant. The time that children spend on TANF does not count toward their 5 year limit as an adult. A limited number of families may be able to receive TANF benefits for longer than 5 years but only for special “hardships”. Who will be eligible is still being determined.

Do you have to apply for child support to receive TANF?

Generally, you must apply for child support if there is an absent parent.. Your child support payments will be paid over to the welfare department. If you are a victim of domestic violence or have other “good cause”, the welfare office may excuse you from filing for child support. If you fail to cooperate, your check may be reduced by 25%.

What are the resource limits?

Resource limits for one or more persons is $1,000. One vehicle, regardless of its value, is excluded.

Does everyone have to work?

If you receive TANF you will probably have to participate in mandatory work requirements. There are a few exceptions. You may not have to work (but the 5 year limit may still apply) if you are:

  • mentally or physically unable to work,
  • a parent of a child under age 6 and no child care is available,
  • a parent of a child under age 1 – this exemption is limited to 12 months in a parent’s lifetime,
  • minors who are not considered to be “head of household” are exempt, but must go to school or pursue a GED.

There are also numerous good cause circumstances, such as lack of transportation, that may excuse you from meeting work requirements.

What are the mandatory work requirements?

Every adult recipient is required to sign an Agreement of Mutual Responsibility(AMR) and, if you are not working at least 20 hours a week, you must do an 8 week job search. If you do not find employment of at least 20 hrs/week after completing the job search, you and your worker will determine what work activity is needed to make you employable. During the first 12 months on TANF, the work activity requirement can be met by participating in education/training activities. After 12 months, you can continue education/training but you must combine this with work activities.
For the first 24 months on TANF there is no specific number of hours/week you must do a work activity. After 24 months, you must be involved in a work activity for at least 20 hours/week. You should use the work activity options, especially in the first 24 months, to get education/training you need to get a good job.

What is an Agreement of Mutual Responsibility (AMR)?

The AMR is a very important document. In it you set your training and employment goals and how you plan to achieve them. The welfare department lists the supportive services they will give you to help you reach your goals. Each welfare office has an Education and Training Unit. A caseworker from that unit will help you develop your AMR. The AMR is reviewed on a regular basis and can be modified at any time. Your AMR may include things like getting your GED or staying in school, job training, community college, a four-year degree program, or even help with family problems. If you do not follow your AMR and complete activities, your benefits will be suspended.

What kinds of supportive services are available from the welfare office?

You can receive help to pay for transportation and child care and such things as uniforms, tools, car repairs and school supplies, and certain fees for school.

How do you do a job search?

You can choose one of the following ways to do your job search:

  • County Assistance Office directed job search – this requires 2 half day workshops and look for a job on your own or
  • Contracted job search – you go to an agency hired by the welfare office to help you develop skills to look for a job.

Which type of job search should you choose?

You have the right to choose which job search program is right for you. If you are already in school or a training program, or plan to attend a training program you will want to choose a county assistance office directed job search. This is because mandatory contracted job search activities may interfere with any educational or training program you are attending. If you do not have a clear employment goal and little experience in looking for a job, a contracted job search might be your best choice.

Are there special rules for young parents?

Yes, parents under age 18 who have not earned a high school diploma or its equivalent are required to return to school or get a GED. Also, single parents under age 18 are required to live with their parents, relatives or in an approved supervised setting.

Do you lose all benefits once you start working?

No, under TANF, half of your earnings are not counted. This lets working families continue to receive an assistance check. Even after you earn enough to get off welfare, you may still be eligible for food stamps and for programs that help you pay for day care and health benefits. The 5 year lifetime limit does not apply to food stamps or medical coverage.