The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program provides financial aid to the neediest of low-income families in order to assist families in rising from poverty and becoming more self-sufficient. Benefits can be used towards several household expenses, including housing, food, clothing and household supply costs. 

In order to receive TANF benefits, your family must meet eligibility requirements, including qualifications that are categorical, income-related and work-related. Your family must met these eligibility requirements to receive initial benefits, and eligibility must be maintained while receiving assistance through TANF. Not only do these factors determine your eligibility for benefits but also the amount of benefits that you may receive. 

If approved for benefits, it is important to know how you will receive your benefits, what you may use your benefits on and what you cannot use your benefits to purchase. By learning more about your benefits, you can ensure that you retain your eligibility for TANF. 

What is TANF?

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program is a federal assistance program that provides monthly monetary assistance to qualifying low-income families. While funded by the government, TANF is administered locally at a state level with various rules that are specified within each state. TANF benefits strive to accomplish four goals: 

  1. To provide financial aid to families in need so that children within these families can continue to receive care in their own or a relative’s home. 
  2.  To end the overall dependency on government benefit programs through the promotion of work, job preparation and marriage. 
  3. To decrease the amount of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and create goals for preventing and reducing incidences of these types of pregnancies. 
  4. To encourage two-parent households. 

Understanding TANF Requirements 

Before your family can begin to receive TANF benefits, you and your family must meet the program’s eligibility requirements. While some eligibility requirements do vary by state and several states have chosen to enact additional requirements, general eligibility covers categorical, income, asset, work and other qualifications.  

Categorical Requirements

To be eligible for TANF, your household must be considered a family and there must be at least one dependent child who is 18 years of age or younger living within the home. Families that do not have children living within the home cannot qualify for financial assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. 

In some states, women who are pregnant may also be eligible to receive benefits even if there are no other children living within the home. State laws vary on whether or not pregnant women are eligible for TANF benefits, and some states only provide benefits to pregnant women who are at or beyond a certain stage in pregnancy. For example, the state of Alaska only provides benefits to women who are at least seven months pregnant. 

Income Guidelines

TANF provides monetary assistance to the neediest of families. Therefore, your family must meet income guidelines in order to qualify for benefits. Each state has its own specific income limit due to the average costs of living within each state. Income limits are also set by household size. For example, if you have a household size of four, you can have a greater amount of income in comparison to a household size of two and still qualify. 

When determining whether or not you meet income guidelines within your state, it is important to know that teen parents may have to count their parents’ income. This rule varies from one state to the next. 

Asset Guidelines

In addition to income guidelines, families must meet asset limits in order to qualify for TANF assistance. Each applicable state has a set dollar amount in assets that you are allowed to have and still qualify. Additionally, state programs determine whether or not a particular asset is exempt. However, assets may include finances in your bank accounts, vehicles you own and property that you own. 

Not every state requires participants to meet asset limits. For example, the Alabama TANF program does not currently have any limit on the assets a family is allowed to have. 

Work-Relate Activities

If you are approved for TANF benefits, your state program will require you to meet specific work requirements. These requirements may include a work program, educational course or employment. Depending on the state that you reside in, you may be required to meet work-related eligibility requirements immediately after being accepted into the program or you may be given a set period of up to 24 months. 

Not every work program offered within the state is a paid one. Some work programs offer volunteer opportunities that can help you reach your weekly hourly obligation. Should you fail to meet work-related eligibility requirements for TANF, you can lose your TANF cash assistance eligibility and your family will stop receiving benefits. 

Other Qualifications

Depending on the state that you reside within, you may need to meet other eligibility requirements before or after you begin receiving benefits. For example, some state TANF programs require children’s school attendance to meet certain requirements to maintain (or avoid a reduction of) TANF benefits.

Understanding TANF Benefits

If you are approved for TANF assistance, then it is important to learn more about your benefits, including how you will receive them and what you can use your benefits for. Additionally, it is also worth knowing that maximum benefit amounts and the amount of benefits that are provided to TANF families are determined by the state program. 

How are TANF benefits received?

Your TANF benefits will become available on the same date each month regardless of whether or not that date falls on a weekend or holiday. Depending on your state program, you may receive your TANF benefits in one of many ways, including: 

  • Paper check.
  • Through an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. 
  • Through an Electronic Payment (EPC) card. 

Once you have been approved for TANF, you will receive further instructions regarding how to receive and use your benefits each month. 

What can be purchased with TANF benefits?

Your family’s TANF assistance can be used towards the purchase of household goods, food, clothes and even towards rental payments. TANF can be used to gain cash assistance. Therefore, you can use the money you receive from the program each month on any of your monthly household expenses, so long as it is not towards a purchase that is prohibited by TANF regulations. 

What cannot be purchased with TANF benefits? 

There are several items that you cannot purchase using your TANF cash assistance. These items include: 

  • Any illegal item. 
  • Alcohol.
  • Tobacco. 
  • Tattoos or piercings.

You may not use TANF benefits for gambling purposes of any kind. Should you be found using your benefits on prohibited goods or services, you could lose your benefits or face a reduction in benefits.