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Understanding Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

TANF, also known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is a cash assistance program that helps low-income families afford food, housing and child care expenses. If parents or caretakers cannot afford to pay for their household’s basic needs, they may apply for benefits through this program. In some cases, qualifying beneficiaries can obtain other types of government assistance at the same time. However, the overall goal of the program is to help families reduce the need for government assistance.

TANF benefits may be distributed under a different program name in each state. For instance, in California this program is known as Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CALWORKS). In Florida, the Welfare Transition Program provides qualifying households with temporary cash benefits. During the calendar year of 2018, this program assisted an average of 2,197,480 recipients nationally. You can learn more about the TANF application process and explore the various eligibility requirements below.

What is TANF?

Parents and caretakers apply for TANF when they are currently unable to support their household expenses, such as food and rent. While the most notable benefit of the program is that it provides needy households with temporary cash payments, it also helps families to work toward self-sufficiency. Overall, the four main goals of this program are to:

  1. Assist needy families with children.
  2. Reduce a household’s need for government benefits.
  3. Reduce instances of pregnancy outside of marriage.
  4. Encourage two-parent households and reduce the risk of divorce.

In addition, the TANF program helps households to overcome financial difficulty by providing the training and resources needed to secure future employment opportunities. In some states, the program may provide beneficiaries with additional benefits, such as GED or English courses, vocational rehabilitation and child care assistance.

How much money do you get from TANF?

TANF benefits vary depending on several factors, including the state where applicants live. Since each state sets its own eligibility criteria for this cash assistance program, monthly payment amounts vary by state, household size and net income. For instance, in Texas the maximum monthly benefit amounts for a family of four include the following:

  • $242 for child-only cases
  • $354 for households with one parent or caretaker
  • $363 for homes with two parents or caretakers

When calculating a household’s temporary assistance amount, state agencies subtract the applicant’s net income from a standard dollar amount. The standard dollar amount typically varies depending on the size of the household. Then, the state agency pays the difference in benefits. However, if a family earns no income, the applicant may receive the full payment standard for the size of his or her household.

Note: The delivery of your monthly payments also varies depending on the state where you live. Typically, your monthly benefits arrive electronically or via direct deposit. Some states issue a TANF card, which is similar to a prepaid debit card. For example, in South Dakota this card is known as the Conduent Way2Go card.

Learn About TANF Requirements

While certain TANF eligibility criteria varies by state and U.S. territory, program beneficiaries typically need to be responsible for a child who is younger than 19 years of age, or must be pregnant when they apply. Additionally, the program is only available to:

  • Low-income applicants.
  • Those who are underemployed, unemployed or at risk of losing their job.
  • U.S. citizens, nationals, permanent residents or those with otherwise legal presence.

Since this assistance program is only available to financially-needy applicants, claimants must also meet income restrictions in order to qualify. However, TANF income limits vary by state, household size and the total number of parents or caretakers per home. For instance, in Texas the current monthly income limits for a family of three include:

  • $130 for child-only cases.
  • $188 for households with one parent or caretaker.
  • $206 for households with two parents or caretakers.

In 2016, average monthly income amounts for a three-person household ranged from $269 in Alabama to $2,243 in Minnesota. Under the TANF program, state agencies typically look at an applicant’s countable income, assets and child care expenses when determining whether he or she is eligible for benefits. If an applicant pays child support, the state agency may also look at this amount when determining his or her eligibility.

How to Apply for TANF

In order to begin the application process for temporary cash assistance, claimants must apply through a local social services or family assistance agency. While specific application requirements vary by state, claimants typically need to provide their Social Security Number (SSN), U.S. citizenship status and information about their income, living expenses and assets when applying for benefits. To obtain contact information for each state’s TANF office, find your state in the chart below.

State Telephone NumberStateTelephone NumberStateTelephone Number
CA916-654-3454ME207-287-3707PR 787-294-0738
GA404-651-9361 or

Note: You can also apply for TANF online in some states. To do so, visit the website of your state’s social services agency for additional information, or contact the office directly.

How long do TANF benefits last?

As a temporary program for low-income households, beneficiaries can only receive TANF cash assistance for a limited period of time. While specific rules and time restrictions vary by state, this limit typically ranges between 12 and 48 months per eligibility period, or a lifetime limit of 60 months. However, some lower-income households may be able to extend their benefits for a longer period if they qualify for a hardship exception.