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Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a government program that gives states grants to fund their own programs to fulfill TANF goals. TANF programs aim to help low-income families obtain basic needs with the ultimate goal of obtaining self-sufficiency.


TANF Meaning | What is TANF?

TANF was created by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) and focuses on helping low-income families with temporary financial assistance for childcare, job preparation, and other supportive services. Although the program is federally funded, it does not dictate how the states should use the funds. States determine how to use the funds as long as they work toward the broad requirements that TANF sets. These include:

  • Providing assistance with childcare
  • Ending dependency on government benefits
  • Preventing/reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancies
  • Encouraging and strengthening two-parent families

TANF programs vary by state and can include family planning services, energy assistance with heating and cooling, child care, job placement through public/private agencies, and even purchasing a first home.


However, TANF is not without critics. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) argues that the TANF benefits are too limited and that many states have income eligibility requirements far below the federal poverty level. Many states also limit the amount of assets families can have and still remain eligible for TANF programs which indirectly keeps families in the cycle of poverty. 

Why is TANF important?

According to a 2020 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 37.2 million people experiencing poverty and showed a decrease in the median household income. TANF programs are intended to reduce the poverty rate and help lift families out of poverty and become self-sufficient. 


What do you need to know about TANF?

TANF has an annual budget of $16.5 billion that it distributes to the states, U.S. territories, American Indian tribes, and Native Alaskan organizations. States must contribute as well, totaling around $10.3 billion annually. According to the CBPP, the budget has not increased in the past 20 years.

Because states can allocate TANF funds to different programs that fulfill the TANF mission, eligibility requirements may differ too. However, if you are denied acceptance, you can request to file an appeal. 

Most participants receive cash assistance that can range from $162 to $821 per month depending on the state, but the amounts vary and can be much less than the range.

To learn about what TANF resources are available in your state and to apply, you have to go through your state agency, which you can find here.

TANF and Low Income Relief

The Low Income Relief team has several posts on how TANF can help you, such as:

FAQs about TANF

Here are some of the questions most often asked about TANF:

Who is eligible for TANF?

Eligibility requirements include:


  • U.S. citizenship/legal alien status
  • Being a resident of the state 
  • Having a child younger than 18
  • Being pregnant
  • Being 18 or younger and head of a household

How do I apply for TANF benefits?

You have to apply through your local state welfare or social services office. Find your state office here.

What are the income/asset limits for TANF?

The government allows states to set their own limits on the income and assets a family can have and remain eligible for TANF programs. A 2017 report by The Pew Charitable Trusts cited a range between $1,000 and $10,000 in assets across the states.

Income limits also vary by state but are often well below the federal poverty level. The federal poverty level often refers to poverty guidelines in determining the minimum a household needs to cover basic necessities of living. These income levels, determined by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), are often used to determine eligibility for assistance programs like TANF. For example, in 2021, the poverty guideline for a family of eight is $44,660.

For more information about TANF, click here or to find your local state agency, click here

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