Many Americans are struggling with money right now. While the cost of goods and services continues to rise, wages aren’t keeping up. If you find yourself in a position where you need assistance, you certainly are not alone. The federal government recognizes that families are having a hard time. There are many assistance programs that help with different types of costs. There are options for U.S. citizens and eligible immigrants for things like housing, education, healthcare, and more.
The search to find the best program for you can be overwhelming. Fortunately, the government created a website called Benefits.gov to help with that. The website acts as a one-stop resource for information on most, if not all, government assistance programs. Additionally, this website has a resource called the Benefit Finder. This database shows you what programs are best for you once you’ve answered a few questions. One particular program that you may come across is TANF.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a program funded by the federal government. However, state governments use federal grants to operate it. TANF is able to provide roughly $16.5 billion to:
- The District of Columbia
- The U.S. Virgin Islands
- Puerto Rico
This doesn’t exclude tribal lands either. American Indian tribes and Alaska Native organizations that are recognized at the federal level may also be able to offer TANF. They would be able to do this through the tribal TANF opportunity.
Because the states manage TANF, they decide what grant funds are used for. The states decide on things like the extent of benefits provided to recipients. They also decide on the qualifying criteria needed to receive benefits from this program (within federal requirements). The goal of TANF is to help families with children become self-reliant. Basically, TANF helps families become independent and no longer in need of assistance.
How TANF Works
How does TANF work exactly? The federal government doesn’t provide benefits directly to families. Instead, state governments use their TANF grants to provide cash assistance to families. Additionally, state governments provide helpful and relevant services to families. The services are provided with the main goal in mind–helping the family become self-sufficient. There are four primary goals that TANF aims to accomplish. They are:
- Provide assistance to families so that children can be cared for in their own home or the home of relatives
- Lessen and prevent out-of-wedlock pregnancies
- Encourage and support families that have both parents
- End parent’s dependence on government benefits by encouraging jobs, work, and marriage
Applying for TANF
Now that we went over the main purpose of TANF, you might be wondering how to apply and whether or not you’re eligible. Before submitting an application, do additional research to become more familiar with the program. This way you can prevent any unnecessary delays when you do decide to apply. To begin applying, reach out to your state's TANF or Social Services office. The best part is that there is no risk in applying! The application is free to complete.
As we have covered already, state governments are responsible for operating this program. Which means that they get to decide the extent of benefits and eligibility requirements. As a result the exact eligibility criteria might look different in some states. However, the program’s purpose is to give help to families with children. With that in mind, TANF has two general requirements:
- Families must be low-income
- Families must include one or more children under the age of 18 years old
The federal government wants to ensure that its grants are supporting the success of families. Additionally, because of limited funding, it is important for states to make sure that the correct people receive benefits. As a result, there are criteria that can disqualify families that apply for TANF. But as stated above, the exact criteria differs between states.
What Are TANF Work Restrictions?
While there is a big focus on recipients of TANF maintaining regular work, there are a few exceptions. Some states have determined circumstances where an applicant can receive TANF benefits, without working. To give an example, in the state of Pennsylvania a person can be exempt from the work requirements if:
- The applicant is caring for a baby one year or younger
- If they are enrolled in school and under 22 years old
- The applicant is caring for a dependent with a disability
TANF Work Requirements
As we covered earlier, the federal government gives TANF grant funds to states. After that, the state is responsible for deciding which families to help and how. However, the states can’t just accept anyone to receive benefits. The federal government created TANF with particular goals in mind. The purpose of the program is to support families with children to become independent. Part of being independent is working. That is why state governments are accountable to meet goals for Work Participation Rates (WPR). If the state fails to do this, it will be penalized.
WPR is measured by the number of work-eligible TANF participants at two different rates. One is an all-families rate. The other is a two-parent family rate. The state is required to have a minimum of 50% of all families work at least 30 hours per week. This requirement is lower for single parents with young children. A single parent with a child younger than 6 years is asked to work a minimum of 20 hours per week.
For households with two parents, the expectation is that both parents work 35 hours or more per week. The goal rate for these families is 90%. The state must meet this goal to keep TANF funding.
The Bottom Line
Many Americans are struggling to make ends meet. Even simple things like groceries and gas have become more difficult to afford. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, you’re certainly not alone. Because so many families are facing hard times, it’s more important than ever that people understand their assistance options.
Here we covered the basics of TANF, how it works, and the general requirements for the program. You need to contact your local Social Services office to find out more information about TANF. If the program seems like a fit for your family, you can also begin applying with your local office. And remember, you have nothing to lose because the application is entirely free. But you do have more that you could gain!