Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Helping Families Move from Welfare to Work

Young mother holding baby while buying groceries
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Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a federally funded—state-administered—financial assistance program for low-income families with dependent children and financial assistance for pregnant women during their last three months of pregnancy.

TANF provides temporary financial assistance while also helping recipients find jobs that will allow them to support themselves. TANF provides funds while recipients are going to school if they are receiving an education related to the work they will be doing.

In 1996, TANF replaced old welfare programs, including the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. TANF provides yearly grants to all U.S. states, territories, and tribal governments. The funds are used to pay for benefits and services distributed by the states to assist needy families.

Since replacing AFDC, the TANF program has served as one of the main sources of economic security and stability programs for low-income families with children.

Through this government grant program, states, territories, the District of Columbia, and federally-recognized Indigenous communities receive about $16.6 billion annually. The TANF recipient jurisdictions use these funds to provide direct income support to qualified low-income families with children.

The funds also allow the jurisdictions to assist recipient families with job placement and training, child care, and tax credits.


To get their annual TANF grants, states must show they are accomplishing the following goals:

  • Assisting needy families so children can be cared for in their own homes
  • Reducing the dependency of needy parents by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage
  • Preventing out-of-wedlock pregnancies
  • Encouraging the formation and maintenance of two-parent families

While TANF jurisdictions must meet certain work participation and cost-sharing requirements, they have considerable flexibility with TANF funds to implement programs that best serve their distinct communities.

Eligibility by State

While the overall TANF program is administered by the federal Administration for Children and Families, each state is responsible for setting its own financial eligibility requirements, and accepting and considering applications for assistance.

General Eligibility

To be eligible, you must be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen and a resident of the state in which you are applying for assistance.

Eligibility for TANF depends on the applicant's income, resources and the presence of a dependent child under age 18, or under age 20 if the child is a full-time student in high school or in a high school equivalency program. Specific eligibility requirements vary from state-to-state.

Financial Eligibility

TANF is for families whose incomes and resources are not enough to meet the basic needs of their children. Each state sets maximum income and resource (cash, bank accounts, etc.) limits above which families will not qualify for TANF.

Work and School Requirements

With few exceptions, TANF recipients must work as soon as they are job-ready or no later than two years after beginning to get TANF assistance.

Some people, such as the disabled and seniors, are given a participation waiver and do not have to work to qualify. Children and unmarried minor teen parents must meet school attendance requirements established by the state TANF program.

  • To count toward a state's work participation rate, single parents must participate in work activities for an average of 30 hours per week, or an average of 20 hours per week if they have a child under age 6. Two-parent families must participate in work activities for an average of 35 hours a week or, if they receive federal child care assistance, 55 hours a week.
  • Failure to participate in work requirements can result in a reduction or termination of a family's benefits.
  • States cannot penalize single parents with a child under 6 for failing to meet work requirements if they cannot find adequate child care.

Qualifying Work Activities

Activities that count toward a state's work participation rates include:

  • Unsubsidized or subsidized employment
  • Work experience
  • On-the-job training
  • Job search and job readiness assistance—not to exceed six weeks in a 12-month period and no more than four consecutive weeks (but up to 12 weeks if a state meets certain conditions)
  • Community service
  • Vocational educational training—not to exceed 12 months
  • Job skills training related to work
  • Education directly related to employment
  • Satisfactory secondary school attendance
  • Providing child care services to individuals who are participating in community service

Time Limits

The TANF program is intended to provide temporary financial assistance while the recipients seek employment that will allow them to fully support themselves and their families.

As a result, families with an adult who has received federally-funded assistance for a total of five years (or less at state's option) become ineligible for cash aid under the TANF program.

States do have the option of extending federal benefits beyond five years and may also choose to provide extended assistance to families using state-only funds or other federal Social Services Block Grant funds available to the state.

Contact Information

Mailing Address:
Office of Family Assistance
Administration for Children and Families
370 L'Enfant Promenade, SW
Washington, DC 20447
Phone: 202-401-9275
Fax: 202-205-5887

Or go to the Office of Family Assistance website's FAQ page for TANF: www.acf.hhs.gov/ofa/faq

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Your Citation
Longley, Robert. "Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)." ThoughtCo, Oct. 2, 2020, thoughtco.com/temporary-assistance-for-needy-families-tanf-3321421. Longley, Robert. (2020, October 2). Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/temporary-assistance-for-needy-families-tanf-3321421 Longley, Robert. "Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/temporary-assistance-for-needy-families-tanf-3321421 (accessed March 23, 2023).