The TANF Remedy for Needy Families

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a program that has been working for years to assist needy Americans with their financial troubles. TANF provides job support, relief, and even up to five years of financial assistance, which they get from state funds. This assistance option is referred to as a block grant and was enacted in 1996. It was a part of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. It was a response to the debates around the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. As a result, TANF subsequently took the place of the AFDC program to help families in need.

What is the Difference Between TANF and AFDC

There are many differences between TANF and AFDC. One of the major differences was the time limit restraints. Originally, AFDC had no time limit. TANF was a different story. Any federal TANF funds expire after 60 months. There can be extensions for any time past 60 months, but only at 20% of the caseload. This was impactful because it meant that individuals could no longer receive unlimited funds for their family.

Another major difference was the performance measure guidelines for states. Under AFDC, the recipient must be engaged in employment, education, or any training activity that was specified in JOBS activities. In TANF, states are restricted when it comes to considering education and training activities.

Types of Activities and Assistance

TANF is a program which supports those who are going through hardship, but want to one day stand on their own two feet. Transitional assistance is a type of opportunity that is provided to families. Long-term development objectives are assisted with this option. Families that meet these objectives, have the opportunity to support themselves and live better lives. They achieve this through delivering educational services, vocational training, and rehabilitation if needed. Financial assistance from TANF is also very generous. The financial assistance includes monthly payments to settle basic expenses (utilities, food, housing, etc.). TANF recipients also qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Eligibility Requirements

Both federal and state regulations determine eligibility for TANF benefits. The definition of “low-income” strictly depends on the area that you reside in, but generally if you have one dependent under the age of 18 (or sometimes 18 years old but still in high school) while fitting into the low-income category you have a good chance of getting the benefits. The major disqualifiers are if you have a criminal record (or have committed a felony), intentionally write wrong information on your application, broke your parole (if you were serving time), or if you received the value of five years worth of TANF assistance. You can apply by getting in touch with any local TANF office or any social services office that will be able to help.

Is TANF A Work Program?

The answer is that it differs from state to state. Though generally it is, in most states you do not have to participate in the work program if the following criteria applies to your situation: (1) if you are over 60, (2) if you are a primary caregiver for a child who is less than a year old, (3) if you are a veteran receiving disability benefits, (4) if you are an approved social security beneficiary (for either Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability benefits).

Understanding the Pandemic TANF Act

Many people did not realize that the government responded to the pandemic by assisting those impacted by COVID-19. Additionally, programs were also created to provide necessary relief. That is why it is important to understand the Pandemic TANF Act when it comes to understanding TANF as a whole during this time.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, low-income families faced an increased risk of not being able to meet the work eligibility requirements for programs like TANF. This was because of COVID-19 aspects like widespread economic closures, illness, social distancing measures, caregiving responsibilities, and more. That caused low-income families a lot of struggle to receive the help that they need and also thrusted them further into financial hardship that made it harder than ever to keep up with bills, provide basic necessities, keep up with the care of their loved ones/their home, and more. That is why the government created the Pandemic TANF Assistance Act.

This act aims to address both the short-term and long-term needs facing low-income families during the pandemic. This act temporarily waives not only work requirements, but other requirements for current TANF recipients. Not only are some requirements waived, but there is also a new assistance opportunity available called the Coronavirus Emergency Assistance Grant Program. This program provided tribes, territories, and states some additional resources in order to support qualifying families until some point in 2021. (You should keep in mind that the Pandemic TANF Assistance Act is only a temporary assistance program that could expire soon.)

The government realized that there were those that were going to be more affected than others. Which is why they were doing what they could in order to provide relief through different assistance programs, grants, and acts.


TANF is a great way that Americans can receive help during times of financial hardship. However, as COVID-19 affects the country in unprecedented ways, additional resources are being created in order to help those getting impacted the most. That is where the Pandemic TANF Assistance Act became a valuable tool to recipients who were struggling to continue to meet eligibility requirements. If you have any questions you can also contact your local assistance offices or go online to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in order to learn more about how the Pandemic TANF Assistance Act created more opportunities for eligible low-income families. There are also additional resources available that can help you better understand what other information you may need to know when you review assistance options for your current situation!

Frequently Asked Questions

Are There Any Other Programs That Can Help Eligible Low Income Families Besides TANF?

Luckily, yes! There are a variety of federal assistance programs that can help eligible recipients. Some of these popular assistance programs include:

There are also other resources like the Community Service Block Grant (CSBG) program. This program varies by state but provides grants to eligible nonprofit organizations. Low-income individuals and families are the target demographic for these organizations to help. If you want additional information, your state’s office will be able to help.

Another source to look into are local charitable organizations and/or churches. There may be more nonprofits located in your community than you realize.

I Had an Issue with My Caseworker. How Can I File a Report/Complaint?

Regardless of your situation, you should be treated with kindness and respect. Sometimes, that just doesn’t happen. If you have any issues with your caseworker, then there are steps you can take.

The first step you should consider is to contact the office that the caseworker works at. You can check out the procedures that they may have when it comes to dealing with complaints. If there is no procedure, you can request to speak to a supervisor. You may be able to get a new caseworker assigned to your case!

If I Have a Felony Drug Conviction (as described in 21 USC 862a), Can I Still Receive TANF?

The answer is a bit complicated. The legal definition says that an individual that has a felony drug conviction cannot qualify for TANF. However, the state has the option to opt out of that requirement. They can even have specialized guidelines to get around this obstacle like a period of prohibition.

The definition of “assistance” includes any sort of vouchers, cash, payments, and other benefits. If other benefits meet a family’s continuous basic needs like shelter, food, clothing, housing expenses, and hygienic items, then they can be considered. In certain eligible cases, it even includes supportive services like child care or transportation. This is according to the definition described in 45 CFR 260.31.

Due to the fact that the prohibition of TANF assistance only refers to “assistance”, states have some wiggle room. States can use TANF funds to provide other non-assistance services that fall outside of the 45 CFR 260.31 definition. Examples of non-assistance include counseling opportunities, and job related services like job advancement or retention.

How Do I Report Welfare Fraud?

You could be denied assistance. It can be frustrating to not receive the help you need while watching another commit welfare fraud. If you have some concrete evidence to show someone is committing welfare fraud, there is something you can do.

You should contact your local welfare agency. You could also contact the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS). States have the obligation to ensure that standards and procedures are met against welfare abuse. People who abuse the welfare system face prosecution and removal of assistance.

What is the Healthy Marriage Initiative (HMI)?

This is an option that is designed to help couples. Couples that have chosen marriage for themselves can have access to marriage education services. These services are voluntary, but can help in a variety of ways. The goal of this program is to provide individuals the information they need in order to lead a healthy and sustainable marriage.

How Do I Understand the Health Profession Opportunity Grants (HPOG)?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will provide grants to organizations that help with the education and training of TANF recipients. Not only are TANF recipients helped, but so are other qualifying low-income individuals. This education and training is specific to occupations within the healthcare field. The opportunities are for jobs that are experiencing labor shortages or have a high demand.

What Code of Federal Regulations Should I Use as Guidance?

Recipients of Grants should reference the Code of Federal Regulations 45 (Public Welfare) Part 75. This lays out all of the requirements needed as well as audit requirements, and cost principles. It is important that you know this information if you are a recipient of HPOG!

How Do I Know the TANF Programs by State?

Every state has their own TANF programs. The assistance varies by state which is why contacting your local office is the best way to review assistance opportunities. However, you can also check out free online resources like this map.

What is the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) State Plan?

These plans provide an overview of what your state is doing to assist Americans. This assistance can include ways the youth and those with employment obstacles can find quality careers.

The Difference Between a Combined Plan Compared to a Unified Plan?

Under WIOA, the state’s governor has the option to submit a combined plan or a united plan. The Secretary of the U.S. The Department of Labor (DOL) receives the submitted plan. The plan that the governor submits will go over the state’s strategy over the course of four years. The strategy outlined is in reference to the state’s workforce development system.

Combined plans include  the six WIOA core programs as well as one combined state plan partner program. Unified plans, on the other hand, just include the WIOA core programs. One of the partner programs specified in combined plans is TANF.

What are the Six WIOA Core Programs?

The Department of Labor (DOL) administers three out of six of the core programs. These three are the Adult, Dislocated Worker, and Youth formula plans. The other three core programs are:

Adult Education and Family Literacy Act

Vocational Rehabilitation Program

Wagner-Peyser Act programs

The Department of Education administers these except for the Wagner-Peyser Act programs. DOL is the department that administers Wagner-Peyser Act programs.