What You Need To Know About TANF


TANF, or Temporary Assistance To Needy Families, is what most people think of when they hear about welfare. It is a small amount of cash assistance, designed to help families take care of their children. There is a common misconception that this cash assistance allows families to live comfortably for years, without the necessity for gainful employment. When the monthly assistance for a family of three could be anywhere from 250-500 dollars a month, it is easy to see that that is just not the case for most individuals.

TANF is a temporary situation to a difficult situation. Some states will allow single moms to receive this grant while they are in any type of college, others will only allow it for technical schools, and a few will only permit you to receive funds for a very short lived class, like the training to be a Certified Nurse’s Assistant. My freshman year of college, I took that class and over half of the women there were single moms who were there on a grant paid for by the state. They received TANF while in classes.

If you think you may be eligible for TANF funds, you will need to fill out an application at your nearest Department of Health and Human Services. There is always a paper copy, and some states allow an internet application, or an application by phone. You have the right to turn it in the day you apply for it, and you should always have as much information as possible when you do so.

Think You Might Be Eligible?

1) Current federal standards state that any individual who receives TANF benefits can receive no more than five years worth of benefits in his or her lifetime. This is regardless of the number of children present now or in the future in the household.

2) Although you cannot be a TANF recipient for more than five years by federal law, your state and education may give you less than that. For example, in Texas a person who has worked at least six months in their lifetime and has a GED or high school diploma can only get 12 months worth of TANF grants.

3) Before your first cash disbursement, you will have to take a class that tells you what you need to do to continue to receive benefits.

4) You will be required to look for work, or do a certain number of hours of volunteer or work training to stay eligible. Failure to do so for even one month can result in the temporary or permanent loss of benefits, which will not be reinstated until you comply with the work requirements for a certain time period, usually for at least a month.

5) Your assets have to be under a certain amount. This will usually include your home, stocks, bonds, CD’s, bank accounts, and vehicle. If you have recently transferred any property out of your name, unless there was a valid reason to have done so. Additionally, if your home or vehicle are worth more than a certain amount, you may not be eligible, or you may lose partial benefits.

6) You need to know that while you receive TANF, you have to accept any job that you are offered. Once employed, you cannot quit without just cause.

7) When you become employed, there may be additional funds available to help you with child care, transportation, and clothing or uniform costs. If you are required to have specific tools in order to do your job, you may be able to receive payment for that as well. Always ask your caseworker what else you might be eligible for, they will usually have a list of other
community resources.

So It Looks Like You’re Eligible….Now What?

If you are in any type of college,trade school, or university, and are currently receiving federal financial aid, your grants and loans do not typically effect your eligibility for TANF. Although you should always divulge every resource to your case-worker, borrowed funds do not typically count as income. TANF has become much harder to get, even for the first time recipient, since 1996. At that time, the Welfare Reform created by President Clinton resulted in many changes in both the administration and use of welfare benefits.

Grandparents and other custodial family members may be eligible for TANF, as long as they meet the current qualifications. In order to be eligible for a TANF grant, your child must be under the age of 18, or under 19 if he or she will graduate high school before their 19th birthday. If between the ages of 5 and 18, you will need to provide proof that they are in school with an acceptable attendance record.

If you are approved for TANF, you will very rarely receive an actual check. It is usually available on the same benefits card that your food stamps are on. This eliminates the embarrassment that used to be associated with the check, and you are able to access your cash while checking out at your local grocery store. You may even be able to use an ATM! However, it is common for grocery stores to charge you a small fee for accessing your TANF. If you feel safe doing so, you might want to take it all at the same time, so you don’t have to pay that fee more than once.

If you are declined for TANF, you have the right to an appeal. This is true whether you have never received benefits, or if you lost your benefits partway through your certification. If you lost your benefits after certification, but before your certification was up, you have the right to be able to receive your full benefits until your case has been evaluated by the appeal committee. If you lose, then you will have to repay the benefits you received. Each state has the right to modify rules, outside the federal limitations, and so your situation could easily be different from another TANF recipient in a different state.

Just as with any other type of assistance, you can expect this process to take some time. Most of the time, your social services office has 45 days from the date you apply to make decision on your case.

There is nothing to lose, and the potential of a cash grant each month to gain. Even if you only think you’re eligible, it might be worth applying for TANF. You’ll never know if you don’t try!