In general, the requirements for TANF cash assistance and programs include:

  • U.S. citizenship, legal alien or qualified alien residency.
  • Be unemployed or underemployed, meaning you don’t work enough hours.
  • Be considered low-income or very low-income.
  • Meet family composition requirements:
    • Have a child 18 years old or younger, OR
    • Be pregnant, OR
    • Be 18 years old or younger and the head of your household.

However, each state has different requirements regarding employment status and income level. What is considered low-income in one state may be considered very low-income in another or not low-income in another still. What’s more, your income level will be compared to the average or median income of the area in which you live, so you may be low-income in one city by not low-income in another. Plus, states may also have different requirements for the different programs they fund using TANF block grants and state MOE contributions.

Requirements for TANF Programs

To better understand the qualification requirements for your state’s TANF programs, contact the state’s TANF department. Some states have a department, office or program called [State Name] Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Or, the title can vary from state to state, but your state may use one of the following department names and keywords:

  • Family Assistance Program
  • Temporary Assistance Program
  • Cash Assistance
  • Economic Security
  • Social Services
  • Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids
  • Temporary Cash Assistance
  • Temporary Assistance for Families
  • Family Investment
  • Department for Children and Families
  • Transitional Assistance
  • Family Support
  • Family Independence Temporary Assistance
  • Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children

You can find a list of state programs and departments as well as their contact information on the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Family Assistance website. From there, you can visit your state’s site and navigate to find your local TANF center.

One of the most helpful programs offered through state TANF programs is the cash assistance program. This provides small monthly payments to needy families who meet income requirements. Unlike other financial assistance programs that are meant to last for long periods of time, potentially the rest of a recipient’s life, TANF only helps you get emergency cash assistance.

Because the amount of cash assistance available to qualifying residents is low, priority is often given to those who are considered very low-income. Whether you’re considered very low-income and the amount you might receive are both based on your income level as it compares to your area’s average or median income. Your family size also factors into your qualification and how much you can receive.

Another factor to qualify for and continue receiving TANF cash assistance and other TANF services is the work requirements. Each state determines how many hours adult- or head-of-household applicants must perform “work activities” to qualify for TANF. States also determine their own definition of “work activities,” including the kinds of work parent applicants must complete. The minimum work requirements are handed down from the federal government and dictate whether a state gets to keep all of its federal TANF funding year to year. Those minimums include:

  • 50% of participating families must have parents completing work activities at least 35 hours per week, or 20 hours per week for single parents with children ages 6 and under.
  • 90% of two-parent families engaged in 35 hours per week of work activities.

That means you generally have to be completing recognized work activities at a full-time capacity.

When you navigate to your state’s TANF program website, you can view the state’s TANF benefits chart that outlines the maximum payment amounts based on family size, income level and other factors. The figures on each state’s chart can vary from state to state and can change every year.

It’s important to note that since states are putting less funding into direct cash assistance programs, it can be a challenge to get TANF cash assistance at all due to lack of availability where you live. Plus, the amount you may be able to receive from TANF cash assistance may not be enough to significantly help your family. You might consider applying for other programs that help low-income families, which we’ll compare to TANF in another slide.