How TANF Can Help Families in Need

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TANF stands for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. It is a federally funded grant program that allows states to create and administer their own assistance programs for families in need.

TANF replaces the federal programs previously known as welfare and enables states to offer a wide variety of social services. One significant change from the old welfare system is that TANF recipients must participate in work activities in or to receive benefits.

This means that parents receiving TANF must be employed in some capacity, be working toward employment, or taking classes aimed at increasing their long-term employability. Recipients may also be eligible for:

Ultimately, the goal of TANF is to provide families in need with a combination of financial assistance and work opportunities so that they can eventually become independent.

How Do You Apply?

TANF is administered by the Office of Family Assistance, which is part of the Administration for Children and Families. Each state has its own local TANF office. However, TANF program names vary from state to state. Therefore, you'll have to contact your state to find out the local program name and gain access to services.

What Are the Requirements for Parents Receiving TANF?

As a single parent receiving TANF, you would be required to participate in qualified 'work activities' for at least 30 hours per week. In most cases, you would be expected to obtain employment immediately upon receiving assistance, and all recipients must be employed within two years in order to continue to receive benefits.

What Work Activities Qualify?

Qualifying work activities are made up of 'Core Work Activities' and 'Non-Core Work Activities.' Your 'Core Work Activities' must make up at least 20 of your 30 work hours per week.

Core Work Activities That Qualify

The following activities qualify as 'core work activities' for TANF:

  • Unsubsidized employment
  • Subsidized private sector employment
  • Subsidized public sector employment
  • On-the-job training
  • Job search (limited to no more than 4 weeks in a row or 6 weeks total)
  • Work experience
  • Participation in a community service program
  • Vocational education training (limited to 12 months)
  • Providing childcare for another TANF recipient engaged in community service

Non-Core Activities That Qualify

Some job-related activities also quality. These include:

  • Job skills training
  • Education related to your employment
  • Secondary schooling or a GED program

Exceptions to the Work Rule for Single Parents

If you have children under 6 and you are unable to find adequate child care, the state cannot penalize you for not meeting the work requirement. In addition, those with children under 6 are only required to complete a total of 20 hours of work activities per week.

What Happens If You Are Unable to Meet the Work Requirements?

The state may reduce or revoke your benefits.

Are There Limits to How Long You Can Receive TANF Benefits?

Yes. In most cases, you can only receive TANF benefits for a maximum of 5 years (or 60 months).

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. What is TANF?

  2. US Department of Health and Human Services. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program.

  3. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Office of Family Assistance. TANF-ACF-IM-2016-05 (Supporting career pathways for TANF recipients).

  4. Hildebrandt E, Stevens P. Impoverished Women With Children and No Welfare Benefits: The Urgency of Researching Failures of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program. Am J Public Health. 2009;99(5):793-801. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2006.106211

By Jennifer Wolf
Jennifer Wolf is a PCI Certified Parent Coach and a strong advocate for single moms and dads.