Temporary Cash Assistance for The Poor

Study has shown households with a single parent raising children were more than twice as likely as households with married couples with children to experience hardship.1

Single-mother families are worse off than any other types of households with slightly over 40% are officially below the poverty level.

It comes as no surprise that many are homeless and unable to afford even the basic necessities like food & housing.

The federal government funds a range of welfare programs for the poor, from cash assistance, food stamps to Medicaid.

And TANF often becomes a source of safety net for over 1.6 million families2 while they get back on their feet — with single mothers making up the bulk of welfare recipients.

What’s TANF?

TANF or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families3, as the name implies, extends temporary financial assistance to “needy” families that are living on income far enough below the poverty threshold.

The grand idea is to offer short-term assistance, with the aim of helping them get off of welfare – primarily through employment.

TANF provides monthly cash stipends via Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) which is used like a bank debit card to pay for rent, day care, and even for the purchase of food.

Am I Eligible?

Eligibility for TANF depends upon one’s income and the total no. of dependents in the household. And since it is a state-administered program, each state is given wide discretion over eligibility, benefit levels and time limit.

The income limits are different for each state, higher in some and lower in others. In all states except Wisconsin, the maximum earnings thresholds is set below the federal poverty level.4

This essentially means that it is technically possible for a single mother with two children earning less than $19,790 or $1,650 per month to be eligible for TANF assistance.

Most states do require families applying for TANF cash assistance to both meet income eligibility criteria and have assets below a certain amount. The most common asset limit is $2,000 or less.

However, in recent years a number of states — Alabama, Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, Ohio, and Virginia — have eliminated asset tests for eligibility and base financial eligibility on income alone.

Is There a Time Limit to How Long I Can Receive TANF Benefits?

Yes, under the current welfare law, the maximum time you can receive TANF assistance is 60 months (5 years), although many states adopt shorter time limits.

For example, the lifetime limit for RI Works is 48 months. Families also are limited to no more than 24 months of cash assistance in a 60-month period.

This, however, does not mean you will automatically stop getting cash assistance at the end of 60 months. DSHS will decide whether you qualify for an “exception” to or “extension” of the time limit.

How Much Cash Assistance Will I Get?

TANF cash benefits vary greatly from state to state. For a family of three, the maximum TANF benefit paid in 2016 varied from $170 per month in Mississippi to $923 per month in Alaska.5

Most Generous States Maximum Benefits % of Poverty Level
Alaska $923 44.0
New York $789 47.0
California $704 ↑ 41.9
Connecticut $698 41.5
New Hampshire $675 40.2
Wyoming $657 39.1
Wisconsin $653 38.9
Vermont $640 38.1
Maryland $636 37.9
Massachusetts $618 36.8

Most states generally vary maximum benefits by family size, paying bigger benefits for larger families. Only Idaho and Wisconsin pay the same maximum benefit regardless of family size.

However, for those who do receive assistance from TANF, the benefits remain quite low and are not sufficient to provide for basic needs; covering only a fraction of housing costs in most states.

Benefits for a family of three are below 30% of the poverty line in 33 states and the District of Columbia with 16 of those states paying less than 20% of the poverty line — that is, less than $330 a month for a single mother of two.

Least Generous States Maximum Benefits % of Poverty Level
Mississippi $170 10.1
Tennessee $185 11.0
Arkansas $204 12.1
Alabama $215 12.8
Louisiana $240 14.3
Kentucky $262 15.6
North Carolina $272 16.2
Arizona $278 16.5
Georgia $280 16.7
South Carolina $282 ↑ 16.8
Texas $285 ↑ 17.0
Indiana $288 17.1
Missouri $292 17.4
Oklahoma $292 17.4
Florida $303 18.0
Idaho $309 18.4

TANF Work Requirements

For families that participate in the program, TANF is often their only source of support, and without it, many would have no cash income to meet their basic needs.

The catch is, you’re expected to participate in work activities for an average of 30 hours per week OR gain employment no later than two years upon receiving assistance.

Single-mother families must participate in a work activity for a minimum of 20 hours per week if they have a child under age 6.

To count toward the work requirement, you must participate in one or more of the following:

  1. unsubsidized or subsidized employment,
  2. on-the-job training,
  3. community service,
  4. up to 12 months of vocational education, or
  5. provide child care services to individuals who are participating in community service.

Failure to comply with the work rules will have your benefits reduced or revoked.

How Do I Apply for TANF?

Though the overall TANF program is administered by the Office of Family Assistance, which is part of the Administration for Children and Families, programs in individual states may use different names, like California’s CALWORKS or Family Independence Program (FIP) in Michigan.

Each state is responsible for setting its own specific requirements for accepting and considering applications for TANF. Depending on which state you live, you may contact the local TANF program in your area to see if you are eligible for temporary financial assistance.

State Local TANF Phone
Alabama Family Assistance (334) 242-1310
Alaska Alaska Temporary Assistance Program (907) 465-3347
Arizona Family Assistance Administration (602) 542-9935
Arkansas TANF 1-(800)-482-8988
California CALWORKS (916) 657-3546
Colorado Colorado Works (303) 866-5700
Connecticut JOBS FIRST 1-(800)-842-1508
Delaware Delaware ASSIST 1-(800)-464-4357
District of Columbia TANF (202) 724-5506
Florida Welfare Transition Program 1-(866)-762-2237
Georgia TANF 1-(800)-869-1150
Hawaii TANF 1-(808)-981-2754
Idaho Temporary Assistance for Families in Idaho (208) 334-5818
Illinois TANF (217) 785-3300
Indiana TANF 1-(800)-457-8283
Iowa Family Investment Program 1-(800)-972-2017
Kansas Kansas Works (785) 296-3959
Kentucky Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program (KTAP) (502) 564-3440
Louisiana Family Independence Temporary Assistance Program (FITAP) (225) 342-3947
Maine TANF/ASPIRE 1-(800)-442-6003
Maryland Family Investment Program (FIP) 1-(800)-332-6347
Massachusetts Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) 1-(800)-249-2007
Michigan Family Independence Program (FIP) 1-(800)-285-9675
Minnesota Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) 1-(800)-657-3739
Mississippi TANF 1-(800)-948-4060
Missouri Beyond Welfare (573) 751-3221
Montana TANF (406) 444-1917
Nebraska Employment First 1-(800)-685-5456
Nevada TANF 1-(800)-992-0900
New Hampshire Division of Family Assistance 1-(800)-852-3345
New Jersey Work First New Jersey 1-(800)-792-9773
New Mexico New Mexico Income Support Division 1-(888)-473-3676
New York Temporary Assistance 1-(800)-342-3009
North Carolina Work First (866) 866-2362
North Dakota TANF (701) 328-2310
Ohio Ohio Works First (OWF) (614) 466-6282
Oklahoma TANF 1-(866)-411-1877
Oregon TANF (503) 378-2666
Pennsylvania TANF 1-(800)-692-7462
Rhode Island Rhode Island Works (401) 462-5300
South Carolina TANF 1-(800)-768-5700
South Dakota TANF 1-(605)-773-4678
Tennessee Families First/TANF 1-(866)-311-4287
Texas TANF 1-(877)-787-8999
Utah Family Employment Program 1-(801)-526-9675
Vermont Reach Up 1-(800)-287-0589
Virginia TANF (804) 726-7000
Washington TANF/WorkFirst (360) 413-3200
West Virginia West Virginia Works 1-(800)-642-8589
Wisconsin Wisconsin Works (W-2) (608) 267-3905
Wyoming TANF (307) 777-7747

  1. Hardship is defined as having difficulty meeting essential expenses, not paying rent or mortgage, getting evicted, not paying utilities, having utilities cut off, or not always having enough food. []
  2. Office of Family Assistance, Caseload Data 2012, TANF: Total Number of Families []
  3. Formerly known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) []
  4. Gene Falk, Eligibility and Benefit Amounts in State TANF Cash Assistance Programs: July 22, 2014 []
  5. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, TANF Cash Benefits Have Fallen by More Than 20% in Most States and Continue to Erode []