What is TANF? The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, also known as TANF, is designed to provide short-term support to families with children when the parents or responsible caretakers cannot provide for the basic needs of the family.

Many people get the AFDC and TANF benefits programs confused. The Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, AFDC, was established in 1935, while the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program replaced it in 1996.

The federal government funds the TANF program and provides grants to each state in the U.S. Each state has the responsibility of administering the program independently, while still following some basic regulations. Because each state manages its own branch of the program, the eligibility requirements and the application procedures may vary across the United States.

To apply for TANF, you must submit an application through the state that you currently reside in. The application can be somewhat confusing, so it is important to understand the steps for applying before you begin.

TANF Program Objectives

TANF benefits help households in need. The program focuses on:

  1. Having children cared for in their own home.
  2. Ending parents’ need for welfare assistance by helping with job preparedness.
  3. Promotion of two-parent households.
  4. The prevention and reduction of pregnancies outside of marriage.

Am I eligible for TANF?

The eligibility requirements to qualify for TANF benefits are very strict. For example, your family must have an income that is below the set limit, and your children must be younger than a certain age.

In order to receive TANF support, both you and your family members must meet certain requirements. The most important requirements considered are income and age.


Because the purpose of the TANF program is to provide support to low-income families, there are very strict income eligibility requirements in place. These requirements must be met for financial assistance to be provided.

Your family must have an income that is less than the amount set in your state. The exact limits vary depending on where you live because of the varying costs of living throughout the U.S.

For instance, the income requirement in Montana is much lower than the income requirement in Hawaii. This is because the cost of living in Hawaii is more expensive than it is in Montana.

Additionally, the assets that your family have also factor into your TANF eligibility. Assets may include:

  • Owned property.
  • Secondary vehicles.
  • Cash in the bank.
  • Retirement funds.

Each state will run its own assets test to determine the amount of money you have in various bank accounts and to evaluate the value of the vehicles and properties that you own. Each state has a specified dollar amount of assets that you must stay under to qualify.

It’s also important to note that the requirements set by each state are typically the same throughout the state. However, in states like California, the requirements vary in different areas.


In addition to income requirements, the children in your family must meet certain age requirements to qualify as well. While adults do not need to be a certain age, the dependents must be 18 years of age or younger unless they are full-time high school students, in which case they can be 19 years of age.

Pregnant women also qualify for assistance through the TANF program in most cases. Pregnant women can qualify without needing to be a certain age and without needing to have minor children. Keep in mind, however, that many states have requirements about how far along in the pregnancy the woman must be before being eligible.

Other Government Programs

How do I apply for TANF benefits?

The first step to apply for TANF is to complete an application form with all necessary information. Depending on the state that you live in, you may have a few different options for applying. For example, in some states, you can complete the process entirely online. In other states, an in-person or by-mail application is necessary.

To learn how you can apply for benefits in your area, contact your local TANF agency. But do be aware that some states call the program by a completely different name.

Tips for the TANF Application

No matter how you choose to apply for TANF assistance, whether it’s online, in person or by mail, there are certain things that you want to be aware of. A few helpful tips for completing the application include the following:

  1. Fill out the application completely and honestly. It is important that you do not skip sections of the application. Not submitting all necessary information will prevent your application from being properly processed. Also, make sure that all of the information you provide is completely accurate and honest. If you submit inaccurate information on purpose, that is considered fraud and your application will be denied.
  2. Have the necessary documents on hand. If you have certain documents with you when you are filling out the application form, you are sure to have a much faster and smoother experience. For example, you should have documents that state your income, monthly rent amount and more with you for easy reference.
  3. Be prepared to submit supporting documentation. Once your application is looked over by a TANF caseworker you will most likely be asked to provide documents that support the information you provided. This includes documents for proof of identity, residency, income and more.

After You Complete the TANF Application

After you are finished applying for TANF, you must be sure to submit the application with all necessary documents. Once your local TANF agency receives your application, they will contact you to schedule an interview.

During this interview, you are required to provide evidence that supports the information you provided. The interview, along with your application, will determine whether or not your family qualifies for benefits.

If your application is approved, then you will be sent information about the financial assistance you will receive via a letter. If your application is denied, then you will receive a letter that states why your family is denied assistance and what rights you have to appeal that decision.

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