What is the TANF Program?

Millions of Americans experience hardship in one form or another at one point. Many seek out financial aid to offset their burden. One government program, known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), is able to financially assist qualifying families nationwide. Through this program, residents with low incomes can obtain monthly monetary benefits. However, it is important to keep in mind that the TANF program provides temporary, rather than lifetime, benefits. 

In order to apply for TANF, households must meet certain qualifications. Although each state has different regulations and details, prospective beneficiaries must earn low incomes and have at least one child in the household. Children are generally defined as dependents 18 years of age and younger. Moreover, specific TANF benefits amounts vary by state. If you are still curious about what is TANF, continue reading below.

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What is TANF? 

Many Americans ask, “What is TANF?” It is a federally funded, state-administered financial assistance program. This program is overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

It is formally known as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. However, it is referred to by different names in various states, as state governments manage TANF. For instance, in Alaska, it is known as the Alaska Temporary Assistance Program (ATAP) and Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) in Florida. 

Although the details of each state’s TANF program differ, the program as a whole seeks to accomplish four primary goals. These objectives include:

  • Keeping children in the care of their parents or relatives.
  • Reducing or eliminating the need for government assistance through the promotion of marriage and work preparation.
  • Reducing pregnancies that occur outside of a two-parent household. 
  • Encouraging formation of two-parent households. 

Eligible residents will be able to receive TANF benefits in the form of monthly allowances. The income required to meet qualification criteria, as well as the exact amount of benefits, varies by state. Additionally, households cannot possess more than a certain amount of countable resources unless they are under special circumstances. 

Learn About TANF Benefits 

TANF benefits are provided primarily in the form of cash. The amount that a household receives reflects their demonstrated level of financial need. Specific amounts are dependent on a variety of factors including the state that a recipient lives in. 

Because of the high cost of living in certain states, beneficiaries in those locations receive greater benefits from TANF. For instance, a single-parent household with two children can receive a maximum of $638 per month in California. In contrast, the same family would receive a maximum of $204 in Arkansas.

With the financial aid obtained from the TANF program, recipients can purchase and pay for a variety of products, bills and necessities. The following are all allowable purchases:

  • Food
  • Medical supplies
  • Furniture
  • Rent payments 
  • Home supplies 
  • Transportation

Oftentimes, benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program are combined with food assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Many states consider residents who submit a TANF application also eligible for food assistance. Typically, beneficiaries can use the same Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card to make qualifying purchases.

What are AFDC TANF Benefits? 

Prior to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program was Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Just like TANF, the AFDC program provided financial aid to low-income families with children. It was available from 1935 to 1996. 

The change in AFDC TANF benefits allowed for better management of the financial assistance program. Initially, the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program provided benefits to children in households in which parents were not able to provide adequate care. Allowances were virtually unlimited for eligible children and their families. 

Once changes were enacted, the program was renamed to the TANF benefits program. After this change, states were given more flexibility with benefits and program design. Additionally, work and job training requirements were placed onto caregivers of the children. Thus, before they can receive any assistance benefits from the TANF program, parents or caregivers must be employed or agree to take part in training programs. The evolution of the AFDC to TANF changed the program from being entitlement-focused to promoting self-sufficiency while earning benefits. 

How to Apply for TANF

Residents with low incomes who have children can apply for TANF in their states. Although, it is important to be aware the program may be known by other names in different states. For instance, it is referred to as Temporary Assistance in Missouri and Temporary Cash Assistance in Florida.  

Moreover, although the TANF program is overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, different state organizations manage the cash assistance program. For instance, Wyoming’s Department of Family Services accepts the applications while the Department of Human Services manages the program in Hawaii. 

There are a number of methods that applicants can use to submit their TANF documents. However, not all application methods are available in all states. Therefore, it is essential to check with your state’s welfare or family services office.

Most states allow residents to apply for TANF online through a portal. However, applicants who do not wish to use this method can visit their nearby TANF office to apply in person. Additionally, many states allow paper submission through fax or mail. 

When residents submit a TANF application, in many states, they are also submitting and application for other government assistance programs. This can include:

  • Medicaid.
  • Food assistance.
  • Family planning services.
  • Emergency Assistance.
  • Child care support. 

How to Fill out the TANF Application 

There are a number of important sections that residents must fill out on a TANF application. One crucial part is the identification section. There, applicants supply their names, ages, Social Security Number and status of legal presence. 

Furthermore, prospective TANF program beneficiaries must provide information about their incomes, both earned and unearned as well as their expenses. This data is required in order to determine if the residents meet income and resource thresholds.

Additionally, submitting an application for TANF benefits involves supplying certain documents and credentials. They will be required for verification of the information provided in the application forms. For instance, to confirm income, the following documents may be submitted: 

  • Pay stubs
  • Court order for child support
  • Tax return documents
  • Letter of award for other government benefits