Know if you are eligible for Temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) program

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program was approved fifteen years ago in 1996.  It replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program that provided financial support to families with children and were living under the poverty line. In recent years, TANF has been providing much less financial assistance as compared to AFDC because the number of such cases is pretty low. Therefore, states are utilizing these funds for providing other services and benefits.

What is the Temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) program?

TANF was launched by Congress under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act 1996. TANF substituted AFDC which was providing financial assistance, since 1935, to the poor people.

Under TANF, states get funds to operate their aid programs. When states receive these funds from the Federal Government, they have to add some more funds on their part as well, to help the needy families. If states fail to add their contribution to these funds, then they face a number of different financial penalties. 

Maintenance of Efforts (MOE) binds the states to make contributions to the TANF program. It has replaced the state-share requirement that needed to be met under AFDC.

The states are permitted to use the federal funds and MOE to meet these four requirements that are set in the law for TANF:

  1. Providing assistance to the needy families so that their children can be taken care of while living in their own homes
  2. Promoting work, marriage, and job prospects so that families stop relying on the government benefits and start earning for their own selves.
  3. Establishing annual numeric goals, reducing the cases of pregnancies that occur out-of-wedlock and taking measures to prevent incidents of early marriages and pregnancies.
  4. Encouraging and motivating people to maintain a family with both parents, while making efforts to reduce the number of divorces and separations.

Know if you are eligible for Temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) program

The state’s MOE share and the Federal TANF funds are the basic sources to finance the TANF program. The total contribution from the federal government to the TANF program has been set at $16.5 billion per year since 1996. Additionally, states are required to contribute to this program.

According to the policies, states have to spend 80% of the total grant they receive from the federal government if work participation in their area is lower than the prescribed rate. Otherwise, 75% of the state granted funds must be utilized.

According to the statistics, states contributed roughly around $15 billion to TANF funds during 2018. The amount that states had to spend as MOE in 2018 was half the amount that they spent under AFDC in 1994. Hence, the adjustments done for accommodating the effect of inflation are reflected in the amount spent by states.

Due to the broadened scope of TANF program, states now have to spend the funds for providing several support services including childcare, income assistance (including supplements and staple requirements for needy families), job training, transportation, helping children who are at a risk of abuse, and education, along with many other benefits.

The funds can even be used beyond the legislated aims and core areas. e.g., for connecting families and providing a safety net to the households that do not need financial support at the moment.

Who is eligible for financial assistance?

The states determine the eligibility criteria for receiving TANF funds and other forms of aid. It is solely up to the states` discretion to set different parameters for residents to qualify for TANF funds and other support services.

For instance, a state can limit financial support to poor families and instead provide transportation services to high income-generating, working families in view of child support.

As far as the cash assistance programs are concerned, every state makes its own decision with respect to determining the financial needs, benefit levels, work-related programs and criteria to be fulfilled by applicants.

The states are also allowed to decide the flexible benefit levels for themselves. TANF benefit levels are particularly low –they are not even enough to meet the basic needs of a poor family. In many states, a family of three falls below the poverty line. Some key federal laws that limit the eligibility for financial assistance are:

Age limits: Funds coming from TANF and MOE cannot be given to a family consisting of an adult for more than 60 months. However, it is upon the state`s discretion to alter the time limit of 60 months by 20% as per the need of the situation. The states and the federal government do not impose any limitation on families who do not have an adult, and on families that are entirely dependent on the MOE benefits.

Some states have set a limit to assist individuals or families for only five years. The state may allow families to continue receiving benefits for a longer period of time in view of the hardships being faced by them.

Immigrant eligibility: The federal laws restrict immigrants to receive assistance until they reside in the United States for at least a period of five years. These limitations not only apply to financial assistance but all the other benefits and services, including childcare, transportation, education, and other TANF benefits.

What benefits are offered in the TANF program?

An individual who receives TANF financial assistance may also be eligible for medical assistance and SNAP benefits.

The HFS Medical Assistance Program operates under TANF and it covers many medical and health-related needs of those in need of assistance. Other than that, there are  Earnfare (that helps get work experience), TANF Job Placements, Childcare, Pregnancy and Parenting, Housing services.

How to apply?

Individuals who want to apply for the TANF program may apply online or visit the local office that is responsible to cover these matters. Use the office locator to find the local office near your residence. Also, apply online for cash, SNAP, and medical assistance.

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