The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program was created in 1996 under President Bill Clinton. The program was created by Clinton to replace the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program. Its purpose is to provide financial assistance to families with dependents. TANF is intended broadly to help provide needy families with assistance while encouraging them to return to work and get off public assistance.
A critical aspect of the TANF program is its job search requirements. Beneficiaries must demonstrate regular job-seeking activity in order to remain eligible for the program. Additionally, there is a national time limit on how long beneficiaries can continue to receive TANF benefits. States may set additional time limits on who can receive benefits and for how long. The sections below go over what the program is, who it is meant for and the process of applying for benefits. For more information on TANF and how it works, download our helpful free guide.
What is TANF?
Created by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, the TANF program offers temporary financial assistance. This comes in the form of direct financial assistance to pay for routine bills, including food, rent and utilities. The amount of aid typically varies depending on how many qualified family members an applicant has and what state the applicant resides in. For example, the maximum monthly benefits a family of three is eligible for in Mississippi is $170. In Alaska, the maximum monthly benefit for a family of three would be more than $900. In Idaho and Wisconsin, the maximum benefit amount does not vary based on family size. Some states have stricter funding limits than others. TANF funding is issued from the federal to the state government in block grants. That means states are given a chunk of funding to put toward money assistance programs.
However, to be eligible for TANF benefits, applicants must also demonstrate that they are actively looking for work. TANF is designed to encourage participants to resume working as soon as possible. Therefore, there are time limits for how long one can remain on the program. A beneficiary can only remain in TANF for 60 months total, or five years, throughout his or her lifetime. Different states may impose different requirements. However, the 60-month maximum follows Americans throughout most states. Some states have a shorter maximum than others.
The exact requirements for work-seeking activity vary by state. Some states use part of the funding they receive for TANF to fund career training programs that help TANF beneficiaries find better employment. Applicants should research the requirements and options in their state before completing the application process.
Find Out About TANF Requirements
The precise eligibility requirements to qualify for TANF benefits vary by state. Generally, you must be pregnant or responsible for a child younger than 19 years of age to qualify. The program is primarily intended to reduce child hunger by addressing parental unemployment. Some states will end unemployment benefits for a parent who fails to find employment within the mandatory period of time. However, they may continue to provide financial benefits for the child even if the parent is no longer eligible.
To qualify for TANF benefits, you must also have a low or very low income along with child dependents. Additionally, you must be underemployed, unemployed or about to become unemployed. You can apply for TANF benefits if you know you will lose your position and you can provide evidence of your impending termination. Your assets will also be considered when determining your eligibility. If you have too many assets, then you may not qualify for the program. Most states have a cap of around $2,000 in personal assets. You must also be a legal citizen or legal alien with documents demonstrating your residency. To remain in the program, you must demonstrate regular job-seeking and career-development activities.
You can only apply for TANF in the state you reside in. States may have additional eligibility requirements on top of the standard national requirements. For example, Arizona requires you to sign a Personal Responsibility Agreement to qualify for benefits. Additionally, you must follow state immunization standards for your children and guarantee their school attendance while you are enrolled. Failing to immunize your children or excessive school absences could jeopardize your eligibility. To learn more about requirements for TANF, download our informative guide.
How to Apply for TANF
The TANF program is state-run, which means application procedures will vary between states. Generally, to apply, you must fill out an application form and providing household income information. Note who resides with you, all your sources of income, all dependents and the circumstances of your unemployment. Then, you should send the application to a Department of Family Services, Department of Social Services or Division of Family and Children Services in your state. The precise department name will vary by state. Additionally, different states have different document requirements.
In your TANF application, you provide the following:
- Proof of citizenship or legal residence
- Social Security Numbers
- Proof of relationships
- Proof of assets Proof of employment history
In some states like Arizona, you may be required to provide numerous additional documents, such as letters from neighbors and landlords. Research the document requirements carefully, as it may take several days to gather all the necessary documents before you can apply. Some states may allow you to apply without all the information, giving you a grace period to acquire the necessary documents. However, there is usually a time limit of several days. Therefore, you should acquire as many documents as you can before submitting your application.
Some states allow you to complete and submit the TANF application online. Others give you the option to turn it in online, in person or by mail. In some states, you should contact a local county office, while in others you communicate only with a state office. The TANF application processing time varies by state, and it can take up to 60 days to receive approval on an application. Therefore, you should research your state’s expected processing times to determine how much time you might have no income. If your TANF requested is denied, then you can appeal the decision. If you are approved, then you must begin demonstrating a job application history to maintain benefits.