Everything You Need To Know About TANF


Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, is also known as the Welfare Program or the Cash Assistance Program. It is a financial assistance program designed to provide cash assistance, job preparation and other supportive services, such as Medicaid, to financially struggling families with children. TANF has been in service to low-income families since 1996.

TANF Eligibility and Application

Before inquiring about TANF, it is important to understand information about eligibility and the application process. In order to qualify for TANF in Pennsylvania, you will need to be a U.S. national, a citizen, a legal alien or a permanent resident, as well as being a resident of Pennsylvania. You must either be pregnant or have legal responsibility for a child or an adolescent under the age of 19. You may qualify if you are unemployed or are working for very low wages; you may also qualify if you will soon be unemployed. If unsure whether you qualify, it is a good idea to apply anyway, as you may be eligible.

You can apply for TANF by contacting your local county assistance office, by downloading an online form and handing it in or through the online resource in Pennsylvania known as COMPASS.

You will be required to provide proof of your citizenship and age, as well as income and resources ($1,000 or less to qualify). Some income and resources may not count toward this amount, for example grants and scholarships or ‘work in kind’ – being paid in goods and services instead of money.

Money Available

If you qualify for TANF, the amount of money allocated to you will depend on several factors including your income, resources, and the number of adults and dependants in your household. The cash that is allocated to you can be spent through EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer). The EBT card is also used for programs like SNAP, but unlike food stamps, TANF benefits can be used to buy non-food items or pay bills.

Time Limits

TANF is only available for 60 months (5 years) of an adult’s lifetime. There are a few exceptions and extensions, but these will be considered on a case-to-case basis, and qualification is not guaranteed.

The five-year limit applies to adults and ‘heads of households’ – the adult who signs the check to collect welfare for themselves and the child – as well as the children in their care. However, if the welfare is for the exclusive benefit of an adopted child, or if the child is living with the adult as a foster child, then the time limit does not apply.

The 60 months are collective, not consecutive. However, no matter how much cash assistance you receive in a month, that month will count toward your five-year time limit. If a recipient spends his or her full 60 months on TANF as a child, he or she is still able to claim 60 months as an adult.

Work Requirements

Unless you qualify for an exemption, you must actively search for work while receiving TANF. You will set your employment and educational goals in your AMR, or Agreement of Mutual Responsibility, which will include the supportive services you need to achieve these goals, such as transportation and childcare. Job-related education and training should go toward completing your work hours.

This work can include subsidized or unsubsidized employment, in either public or private sectors, work experience, community service, on-the-job training, job-search and job-readiness assistance, and education related to employment, either vocational or at a high school. You can also work by providing childcare services to those working in community service programs.

If you do not have qualifications, experience in job searching or a specific career goal, you will most likely be placed in a contracted job search with an agency.

Children and Child Support

In order to receive TANF benefits, single parents must file for child support. If you don’t want to identify your child’s other parent, there are individual case exceptions to this rule that may be considered, including a ‘good cause’ waiver for those in danger of domestic violence.

The child support is claimed by the state, but some of the money can still be allocated to you without affecting your other cash assistance – this is known as the ‘pass through and disregard’ policy.

Parents under the age of 18 need to live with their own parents, legal guardians or adult relatives to receive TANF for themselves and their children. If you are unable to live with your parents, an exception can be considered on an individual case basis.

If you have any questions about TANF, you can contact your County Assistance Office, or TANF Pennsylvania online.