What is TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families)

It wouldn’t take too wild of an imagination to think of how the pandemic has impacted the average Joe’s finances. Just take a quick look at the small businesses around you. During this whole pandemic thing, a lot of people had to shut down their shops and businesses. Little corner stores, bars, take-out restaurants, you name it. Obviously, this is not just about business owners. If small businesses are shutting down, big companies are declining in profits, and there’s absolutely no doubt that there’s a major decline in job opportunities. With so many people losing their jobs, you can only imagine how many people are strapped for cash as we speak. And, to add salt to that wound, a lot of those folks can’t even get approved for bank loans. The issue usually lies within their low credit scores.

One thing’s for certain though, the government can’t just let people starve. People’s tax money needs to go towards something that actually helps the people. And, it does. Among the many ways the government invests its money, are these assistance programs aimed at helping the average American. The whole idea is that the government wants people to live stable lives. The more stable people’s lives are, the better the country will be. Stability can lead to an increase in social harmony. It can also reduce the chances of negative impacts on society, such as crime.

Among the long list of assistance programs the government provides is one called the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF for short. There are a lot of details when it comes to TANF, starting with the background information, but also stuff about the application process and such. So, let’s just jump right in.

What Exactly Is The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families?

We discussed above that the government is trying to keep Americans financially afloat during challenging times. That’s why the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, considering its namesake, focuses on helping out needy families. This is a federally-funded program. However, the federal government is not directly responsible for giving cash hand-outs to Americans. Instead, the federal government assigns a budget from which it will distribute funds among state governments. From there, state governments handle TANF applications and benefits distribution, and supervision.

Through TANF, the federal program provides funds to states, the District of Columbia, and US territories,  such as the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. That means you can TANF benefits wherever you live in the US. On the other hand, the fact that state governments run the program could mean that you can get different benefits from different state governments. Even the qualifications required for the program may vary from one state to another.

The whole point behind TANF is to help out low-income families with children. The government,  through TANF, is working to get these families back on their feet. Eventually, the federal government wants these families to be self-sufficient, not needing help from anyone at all.

Let’s Take A Look At How TANF Works

So, we talked about how the federal government doesn’t just hand cash to those needy families directly. The federal government will instead give the money to state governments to run and take care of. But state governments will not only use the funds to give money to these families but will also use them to create a bunch of services aimed at achieving the same goals.

We also talked about how the government is using TANF to attain a certain goal. That goal is to help American families be stable and achieve self-sufficiency. It’s important to understand what the government means by “stability” and “self-sufficiency.” So, here’s a list of specific goals the government is going after using TANF as their main tool:

  • The federal government hopes children will grow up in their own homes, or, at least in their relatives’ homes.
  • It might sound ironic, but the government wants to use TANF to decrease families’ reliance on government assistance. They hope that works by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage.
  • Cutting down on out-of-wedlock pregnancies seems to be a high priority when the government views American families.
  • The development and stability of two-parent families rank high on TANF’s list of priorities.

How You Can Go About Getting TANF Benefits For Your Family

First of all, your point of contact for TANF will either be your local social services office, or your state’s TANF office. The guys at those offices will always be your best source of reliable information on TANF. These offices will also be where your application starts and gets processed. However, we advise learning all you can about the program to help your application go as smoothly as possible.

The process starts when you fill out the application. Depending on the state in which you’re applying, you can fill out an online form, or you can fill out a paper one, then send it by mail. Following that, someone from the government will contact you to confirm all the information you provided. After that, the government will invite you to an interview. In most situations, you may choose when and where to be interviewed. Some states will allow you to attend your interview on the phone or even at home.

Let’s Talk About Eligibility For TANF And Who TANF Is Meant For

Alright, remember how we talked about how the federal government leaves things up to state governments? By “things”, we mean TANF applications, qualification standards, and benefit distribution. Well, it’s not always going to be different, but it’s important to check anyway. So, in general terms there are 2 qualification standards you need to satisfy to apply for TANF:

  • Your family’s financial status must be seen as low-income
  • In the majority of cases, your family needs to include at least one child/dependent under the age of 18

We also talked about how the federal government assigns a certain budget of TANF funds to each state. Naturally, that budget is limited. As a result, the government needs to make sure that TANF funds reach people who actually need them. The government also needs to be sure the money will be used to achieve the goals they set to achieve. So, unfortunately, there’s a list of cases in which an applicant might be denied or disqualified from receiving TANF benefits:

  • If the government proves that you provided any falsified information
  • Records of convictions of certain felonies may disqualify you from receiving TANF benefits (check with your social services office to learn more about it)
  • Anyone who violates parole or probation has a weak chance of receiving TANF benefits.
  • In case you already received TANF benefits for 5 years
  • Child support cases may complicate your TANF application.
  • Immigrants who moved to the US after 1996 may not receive TANF benefits unless they lived in the country for at least 5 years.

The Government Wants You To Work For Your TANF Benefits

Circling back to the goal the government has of stabilizing families by helping them develop their careers. The government won’t just give families TANF money. TANF funds are used by state governments to help promote jobs and job skills. So, families applying for TANF must be working or taking steps towards getting well-paid jobs.

For a bit of background information, the federal government controls the amount of funding given to each state. Hence, there are certain standards that states must meet to qualify for these funds. Most importantly, states must meet Work Participation Rates (WPR) set by the federal government. Otherwise, they might face penalties.

To understand what WPR actually means, we need to break it down into 2 subsections. The first subsection is the all-family rate. Basically, states receiving TANF funds need to have 50% of families receiving TANF benefits to be working for at least 30 hours a week. There’s an exception for single parents with children under the age of 6. They only need to work 20 hours a week.

The second subsection is the two-parent families rate. Families run by 2 parents should at least 35 hours a week. State governments need to make sure 90% of two-parent families meet that requirement.

You might find yourself wondering what qualifies as “work” when it comes to meeting those working hours. According to some research, the government set 12 categories of work that qualify for those demanded working hours. The government also set certain limitations set for each kind of job. For instance, you can only count a limited amount of hours searching for jobs as “working hours.” In some situations, getting certain types of education or work-related training may not qualify as “working hours.”

The Government Makes Exceptions When It Comes To These Work Restrictions

The government is pretty clear about its expectations for families who apply for TANF. We talked about WPR and how it’s important for each state to meet certain standards to maintain their TANF funding. However, the government keeps in mind that people’s lives are not all the same. With that in mind, certain state governments created exceptions for certain cases when it comes to the work requirements of TANF:

  • Families who look after a child/dependent who is one year old or younger may receive certain exceptions
  • People over the age of 60 might not have to work to receive TANF benefits
  • In some cases, if you already receive benefits through Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability payments from the Social Security Administration, you might not have to work for TANF
  • Veterans who receive disability benefits from Veteran Affairs might not have to work for TANF benefits.