Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

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Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) a.k.a. welfare

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Funding Grants in millions of dollars for 2014:

State family assistance grant – $16,489 mln
Supplemental grants – $0
Healthy marriage/responsible fatherhood grants – $150 mln
Grants to the territories – $78 mln
Grants for tribal work programs  – $8 mln
Regular contingency funds – $612 mln

US Federal Government Entitlement Program – provides cash benefits to needy families to help them get engaged in employment.

The main objective of the TANF program is to help people get off the cash assistance and find employment in general States require welfare recipients to find a job within 24 months of receiving the cash benefits.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is a federal program that provides $16.5 billion in basic block grants per year to States for the welfare of needy families with children.

The Federal Government requires States, under the maintenance-of-effort (MOE) requirement, to contribute their own funds – at least $10.4 billion, used for cash benefits and services given to qualifying families in need. States have discretion on how to manage the federal grants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program.

The purpose of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families federal grants is to help States:

  1. Provide assistance to needy families with children so that they can live in their own homes or the homes of relatives;
  2. End dependence of needy parents on government benefits through work, job preparation, and marriage;
  3. Reduce out-of-wedlock pregnancies;
  4. Promote the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program provides cash benefits to eligible families while they are looking for employment. TANF assures a temporary cash financial assistance to qualifying US citizens and residents when they really need it. Families must be financially needy and have a minor child to qualify for assistance.

In general, States determine the exact financial eligibility rules and benefit amounts. Some families have eligible children but the adults who care for their children are ineligible for aid. These are termed “child-only” families because benefits are paid only on behalf of the children.

The four main goals of the TANF program listed above offer basic cash assistance to needy families plus work activities for those welfare families. In addition, the goals also provide authority for states to use TANF grants for a wide variety of benefits and services for welfare families and other low-income families with children.

States use welfare grants to help support work for low-income families by providing child care or transportation aid. The authority to provide assistance to care for children in the homes of relatives has been used by states to provide benefits and services to children and families of children who have been, or are at risk of, neglect or abuse and are placed in the care of a relative (e.g., grandparent, aunt, uncle). Further, TANF funds have been used for programs and services aimed at accomplishing the “family formation” goals of TANF (goals three and four listed above, and ending dependence through marriage, which is a component of goal two).

Federal Government rules provide for a maximum of 60 months of such cash benefit to anyone, when eligible, in their lifetime. This is the five-year time limit on receiving welfare as stipulated by the law. However, up to 20% of the welfare cases may be extended beyond the five years for reason of “hardship,” with hardship defined by the States.

It should be noted that TANF work participation rules and time limits do not apply to families receiving benefits and services not considered “assistance.” Such benefits and services include child care, transportation aid, the state earned income tax credits for working families, activities to reduce out-of-wedlock pregnancies, activities to promote marriage and two-parent families, and activities to help families that have experienced or are “at-risk” of child abuse and neglect.

Beginning in FY2011, $75 million per year has been allocated for healthy marriage initiatives and $75 million per year has been allocated for responsible fatherhood initiatives.

The activities supported by these initiatives include Healthy Marriage Promotion Initiatives. The purpose of the program is to promote marriage in the general population. Initiatives include public advertising campaigns emphasizing on the value of marriage and education in “social skills” (e.g., marriage education, marriage skills, conflict resolution, and relationship skills).

Applicants for marriage promotion grants must ensure that participation in such activities is voluntary and that domestic violence concerns are addressed (e.g., through consultations with experts on domestic violence).

Responsible Fatherhood Initiatives

Allowable activities under responsible fatherhood initiatives include those to promote marriage; teach parenting skills through counseling; mentoring, mediation, and dissemination of information; employment and job training services; media campaigns; and development of a national clearinghouse focused on responsible fatherhood.

Beneficiary Eligibility

There are Federal and State eligibility rules for TANF assistance

Federal Eligibility Rules

Beneficiaries must be:

  • US Citizens or US Residents with 5+ year of residence
  • Families with a minor child or pregnant women
  • Have income below a specified level (determined by the State)
TANF Work Requirements

In order to get welfare benefits using TANF grants States are required to:

  • Assess each adult recipient’s or teen parent’s skills, work experience to become employable within 90 days of determination of the recipient’s eligibility for assistance.
  • Engage each parent or caretaker adult in “work,” as defined by the State, within 24 months of his or her starting on welfare.
  • Sanction a family by reducing or terminating welfare which has member(s) who refuses to comply with its work requirements without “good cause” – as it is defined by the State. States are free to determine the sanction amount, and whether to reduce benefits or terminate benefits for families that fail to comply with work requirements. States are prohibited from sanctioning a family with a single parent with a child under the age of six if he or she refuses to comply with work requirements because he or she cannot find affordable child care.
  • Meet minimum TANF work participation standards. The standards are performance measures computed in the aggregate for each state, which require that a specified percentage of families be considered engaged in specified activities for a minimum number of hours.

Restrictions on Cash Withdrawals

States generally pay benefits by placing funds on Electronic Benefit Transaction (EBT) cards to be used by recipients making withdrawals from Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) or making purchases at point-of-sale terminals. Federal law requires states to maintain policies and practices to prevent TANF assistance funds from being used in an EBT transaction in liquor stores, casinos or gaming establishments, and strip clubs. States must prevent TANF cash withdrawals at ATMs in such establishments, and prevent purchases using TANF assistance on EBT cards at point-of-sale terminals in such establishments.

How to Apply for TANF

To apply for TANF please contact the local administering agency in your state. To apply for the program, or for other help, contact your state, territory, or tribal TANF (welfare) office directly for help. Please note: The exact name of local Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs may vary.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Check Frequently Asked Questions at the Food and Nutrition Services website.