What is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program?

What is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program?

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(USNewsBreak.com) – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a federal financial assistance program that focuses on helping needy low-income families become more self-sufficient. While state-by-state implementation can vary, TANF typically focuses on achieving two main goals: providing cash payments to cover necessities and running a range of programs aimed at helping people find gainful employment.

Program Basics

TANF is only available to families with children. Cash payments are disbursed monthly, while support services — including job training, education, and child care — remain consistent and ongoing to address barriers to finding work.

The federal government provides a grant to each state to use as the operating funds for TANF. States must add in their own money to fully finance the program.

Each state handles the details, including defining eligibility, setting limits, and creating other requirements for families receiving benefits. For this reason, the exact implementation of TANF may vary in different regions or areas of the United States.

Program Eligibility Requirements

While states are responsible for defining eligibility requirements, a few standard rules apply across the board.

To be eligible for TANF, a person must have a child under the age of 18, be pregnant, or be the head of the household at age 18 or younger. He or she must be able to prove they are a resident of the state and a US citizen. Legal and otherwise qualified immigrants are also welcome to apply.

Families who apply for TANF must be low-income. Adults living in the home must prove they are unemployed or underemployed. States also have the ability to set different requirements for TANF services.

To receive federal funds, states must be able to show that at least 50% of TANF families are working 30 or more hours per week. For this reason, the program does carry a work requirement in most regions.

States often reduce or terminate benefits if families fail to meet job-related guidelines. For example, if adults refuse to work and won’t participate in employment activities, they may no longer qualify for TANF.

Program Management

Federal limits institute a maximum benefit per family that falls 60% below the poverty line. Recipients can remain on TANF for a total time limit of 60 months; a 20% extension is available if citizens can prove continued hardship.

States can extend time limits but may only use their own funds, rather than federal grants, to achieve such goals. However, exceptions do exist at both levels for families where only children receive benefits.

For the federal portion of benefits, legal immigrants must be in the US for at least five years before applying for or receiving TANF. Some states will waive this hurdle, using state funds to assist newcomers instead.

Some states also have other rules for applicants. For example, they may not allow benefit increases if a family has a baby while on the program. Or, they may require drug testing for eligibility. As of March 2021, total of seven states prohibited anyone with a felony drug conviction from receiving benefits, while 22 others instituted a partial ban, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

Program Success

The CBPP says TANF is unsuccessful. Due to states setting their own rules for TANF, including time limits, there are situations where families can continue to receive benefits for longer. Children, for example, are often permitted to receive funding after the time limit has expired, while some states may make exceptions for parents who fail to meet program requirements. However, many families don’t leave the program because they reached self-sufficiency but because they’ve exceeded time limits instead.

In addition, some states have yet to implement productive work programs that enable families to prepare for high-paying jobs. Others simply don’t provide access to enough services to make a difference. States may also fail to monitor families’ progress after they leave the program. That can leave needy families facing another crisis if they experience another setback.

As noted above, the TANF program does have its shortcomings. However, it can still provide relief to those who are in dire need. For more information about how you can apply in your state, visit the TANF page online.

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