If you’re in a situation in which you need financial assistance from the government, you may be wondering which programs you are eligible for.
Specifically, you may be asking whether you should be receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
It can be difficult to know whether to apply for disability benefits or for TANF because there is some overlap between TANF and SSI. These programs are meant to assist the neediest individuals and families, not those who have substantial resources and/or income. Both provide cash assistance to help pay for basic needs.
However, there are also some important differences to be aware of.
We’re going to unpack the differences between TANF and SSI, how eligibility works for both programs, and who should apply for TANF and SSI.
What is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)?
TANF is a government program intended to give financial assistance and other supportive services to low- and very low-income families with dependent children.
The goal of TANF is to help such families gain economic self-sufficiency so that they no longer need to rely on government benefits.
TANF’s primary purposes are to provide such families with:
- Financial assistance for basic needs (housing, clothing, etc.)
- Work-related services (such as vocational training, ESL classes, and childcare assistance)
- Support for health-related issues (substance abuse, domestic violence, and mental health)
Though TANF funding is provided by the federal government, it is not the federal government that distributes TANF-related assistance to the public.
The TANF program provides states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories (Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico) with grant funds that they can use at their discretion.
Most state TANF programs are only partially funded by the TANF federal grants with the rest of the funds for TANF being provided by the state.
Funds are also given to federally-recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Native organizations for tribal TANF programs.
The other major differences between SSI and TANF are that the TANF program…
- Focuses on families with dependent children
- Temporarily provides benefits (the maximum benefit period is five years)
- It does not require that any individual in the family be disabled
There are also specific requirements for how states use TANF funding.
According to the Office of Family Assistance, TANF funds must be used to provide cash assistance to low-income families and provide services that address one or more of the following:
- Aiding needy families so that children can be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives
- Ending the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage
- Preventing and reducing the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies
- Encouraging the formation and maintenance of two-parent families
These four purposes were outlined in the law that created TANF to replace the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), called the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996.
What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal program that was created for the purpose of providing supplemental income to those whose medical condition makes it difficult or impossible to work. SSI benefits can help recipients pay for housing, gas, clothing, and other such necessities.
The SSI program is meant to assist those who truly do not have adequate income or resources to pay for basic needs.
The eligibility criteria for SSI are therefore quite stringent. We discuss those criteria in more detail in our article on SSI than we will here. For more information on SSI eligibility, please read that article.
Because the eligibility criteria for Social Security disability benefits is so strict, it can be very difficult to get a disability claim application approved. If you are considering applying for disability benefits, we highly recommend getting professional disability benefits assistance.
At BenefitsClaim.com, we offer a free online disability case evaluation conducted by a legal professional. It is truly free, as there are no up-front costs or fees for the disability case evaluation.
We understand how hard it is to get a disability claim application approval. Our legal team is highly trained and experienced at building the best possible disability benefits case for their clients.
If you decide after going through our free disability case evaluation that you want to apply for disability income, we make it very easy for you to hire a disability lawyer from our team to help you.
The only thing you need to do to begin the process is take our quick, 1-minute survey. Someone will reach out to you after you provide your contact information
If you’re still wondering which program, TANF or SSI, is a better option for your situation, keep reading to understand your eligibility better.
Eligibility for TANF vs. Eligibility for SSI
There are several differences between the eligibility criteria for TANF and for SSI. The eligibility criteria have some overlap, but they are not the same.
In general, to be eligible for TANF, applicants must meet the following criteria:
- Resident of the state in which they apply
- A U.S. citizen, legal alien, or qualified alien
- Unemployed or underemployed
- Low or very low income
- Have a child 18 years of age or younger
- They are pregnant
- 18 years of age or younger and the head of their household
These are general criteria that states may use to determine eligibility. As stated above, TANF funds are provided to states, territories, and tribal organizations to use at their discretion.
Therefore, TANF eligibility may vary from state to state and among territories and tribes.
Generally, there are also certain prohibitions on TANF. If an applicant meets any of the following criteria, they most likely do not qualify for TANF:
- Have been convicted of certain felony offenses
- Violated probation orparole
- Refuse to work
- Refuse to pursue child support enforcement
- Withhold information needed to determine eligibility
- Have used up the maximum benefit period of five years (60 months)
For SSI, your citizenship status, employment, and level of income are considered, as with TANF. The major difference between TANF and SSI is that you must meet Social Security’s definition of disability to receive SSI.
We have a great article on what it means to meet the definition of disability here.
In that article, we take you through each of the five questions Social Security uses to evaluate a disability claim application. If you think you want to apply for disability income, that article is a good place to start.
Now, aside from severity of disability, the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program also mainly looks at whether the applicant has resources and income below a certain limit.
In general, the more income and resources you have, the less eligible you become for SSI. The same also holds true for TANF.
Many families receiving TANF also report that family members have disabilities, so we’re going to touch on the connection between TANF and SSI.
The Connection Between TANF and SSI
According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), the federal government does not prohibit simultaneous SSI/TANF eligibility.
However, most states prohibit payment of TANF to SSI recipients.
In a policy maker’s mind, because TANF is a work program, problems arise when someone with a disability that qualifies them for SSI is required by a TANF program to find work.
The whole reason that an individual is eligible for SSI is that they cannot work enough to provide for themselves or at all. In legal terms, they cannot engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA).
Additionally, eligibility criteria for TANF are not uniform across states and territories, whereas SSI eligibility is federally determined and therefore applies in every state.
This means that a family with a disabled member may not qualify for TANF in their state, but the disabled individual qualifies for SSI.
Moreover, a family with disabled members who is eligible for TANF may actually receive less benefit through TANF than if they applied for SSI.
Because of these problems, it is recommended for adults and children with disabilities that they apply for SSI first or transfer from TANF to SSI.
If you are an adult with a disability or have a child with a disability, get an online disability case evaluation done as soon as you are able. By getting an evaluation, you will be better able to determine whether you should apply for TANF or SSI.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us here. We’ll be sure to get in touch with you.