Temporary Assistance for Households Through TANF


When you’re down on your luck, it can be hard to catch a break. You don’t need all of the answers in order to start turning things around. Oftentimes, all you need is to take one step in the right direction. Once you know what direction to take, it’s just about putting one foot in front of the other. Benefits.gov can help you learn which direction to go in when it comes to getting government assistance. The federal government provides support opportunities for a variety of hardships. Whether you’re struggling to cover costs such as rent, health coverage, or childcare, there is likely a program that can help you. Use Benefit Finder to discover which programs are right for you.

Before you head over to that website, you may want to hear about one popular support opportunity in particular. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) can help struggling parents and families. TANF provides helpful resources to many financially vulnerable households!

Introducing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

The main goal of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is to help low-income families with children achieve financial stability. Families in or at risk of poverty can get financial support and work opportunities through TANF. In 1996, Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. As a result, TANF was born! The program was established as part of welfare reform efforts. The federal government wanted to find a way for families to receive help financially, while building their job skills and opportunities. Thus lessening the need for government assistance moving forward. The four main objectives of TANF include:

  • Reduce pregnancies that occur outside of marriage.
  • Promote healthy home dynamics and encourage the maintenance of two-parent households.
  • Eliminate parents’ need for government assistance by enhancing job skills and enforcing work requirements.
  • Provide the ability for children to grow up in their own homes or those of close relatives.

Although TANF is a federal program, state governments are responsible for most aspects that go into operating the program. For example, states decide the exact eligibility requirements that applicants must meet in order to benefit. In addition to that, they also have flexibility to determine what kind of benefits recipients can get. This is important to know because the TANF program in your state can vary from another. The program operates through grant funds that are distributed to states, U.S. territories, and other participating locations/organizations. Overall, states can use their portion of grant funds as they see fit.

What Types of Assistance Does TANF Provide?

Now that you understand the purpose behind TANF, you need to know what kind of support you can expect. In order to help families reach financial independence, TANF puts a large emphasis on parents finding and maintaining work. This is important to keep in mind because the benefits that families can get under this program are all centered around that main goal. With that being said, some benefits of TANF include:

  • Cash Assistance: Eligible families receive monthly cash benefits that can be used for essential needs like food, clothing, and housing.
  • Child Care: To help parents find and maintain work, TANF funds are also used for child care services.
  • Educational Programs: Some states use their grant money to fund educational opportunities aimed at improving recipient’s job skills.

Keep in mind that each TANF program can vary depending on the state. Benefits that you can get in your state may or may not include all or some of the above.

What to Expect from the TANF Application Process

To receive assistance from TANF, individuals need to go through an application process that involves meeting certain eligibility requirements. Criteria may include restrictions on income, work requirements, and more. As previously stated, TANF programs vary by state. Therefore, you can reach out to the state agency that manages the program where you live to learn more about what applies to you.

Eligibility Criteria for TANF Benefits

Although we can’t get into specific criteria in this article, we can highlight three general requirements for TANF. It’s now understood that the purpose of the program is to low-income families that have children. Therefore, a few general requirements that you can expect in almost any state include:

  • Make a low-income based on poverty guidelines
  • Must be U.S. citizens or eligible non-citizens
  • Have one or more children and/or dependents under the age of 18 years old (in most cases)

How to Apply for Assistance

The exact application process for TANF varies depending on where you’re applying. For this reason, the best course of action is to contact your local TANF office or Social Services office. You can find contact by state online. From there, someone can advise you on the next steps. In addition, you can get answers to any questions you may have about the program. If you’re wanting to benefit from TANF, you need to have a good understanding of what to expect. This can help prevent any mishaps that can occur as a result of a misunderstanding.

Work Requirements under TANF

In order to receive financial support from the TANF program, families are often required to participate in work activities or meet specific employment goals. In an effort to ensure that the right people are benefiting from TANF, the federal government holds states accountable to meet work requirements.  The amount of work-eligible recipients engaging in work activities is measured by Work Participation Rates (WPR). States are subject to facing consequences if they do not meet minimum WPR goals. As previously stated, the program puts a large amount of weight on encouraging recipients to regularly work. The purpose of TANF is for families to reach a point where they no longer need outside assistance. Part of this is being able to hold down a good job.

There are actually 12 categories of eligible work activities that were determined in 1996, along with the program. Furthermore, there is a limit to how many hours can be counted towards certain activities. For example, time spent on educational programs or training does not typically count as full-time.

Final Thoughts

Overall, TANF aims to break the cycle of poverty by promoting personal responsibility and self-sufficiency in families. The program encourages various healthy family dynamics in order to create more stability within the household. In order to achieve the purpose of the program, recipients are required to work a certain amount of hours each week. States need to enforce these requirements in order to maintain funding!

TANF programs vary by state because states are responsible for operating the program. They have flexibility to determine specific aspects of the program. This includes eligibility criteria, as well as what kind of benefits to offer families. However, you can generally conclude that TANF recipients can benefit from cash assistance and helpful support services.

In order to benefit from TANF, you need to contact the state agency that administers TANF near you. From there, you can learn if you’re eligible for these benefits and what your next steps are. If you’re struggling to make ends meet because you don’t make a lot of income, you may be eligible for other federal programs. In addition to TANF, the federal government provides numerous other support opportunities. Low-income households can benefit from food assistance, rent assistance, and more. Check out Benefits.gov to learn what’s available to you. You may be surprised how much help you’re able to receive!