Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

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For parents who have a child with Cerebral Palsy, financial aid is available through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program. The program initially designed to move families from welfare to work, has stipulations that support families with children who have disabilities.

TANF funds provide temporary relief when bills become insurmountable

Everybody needs a little help now and then. Sometimes, it’s just a hug or an extra set of hands. For parents with a child who has Cerebral Palsy, it may be financial aid to help with insurmountable bills.

Fortunately, there are state and federally-funded programs designed to do just that. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, funded by the federal government and managed by individual state agencies, is among them.

What is TANF?

TANF is a block grant program instituted July 1, 1997. It replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or ADFC. TANF is a by-product of the welfare-to-work laws enacted by Congress in the 1990s. Its main objective is to help families who meet low-income guidelines get back to work by providing temporary financial support, job training and other related services. The program also includes stipulations to help families who have a disabled child in the home.

AFDC offered long-term cash assistance to help families pay bills. Participation was open-ended, meaning that families continued to receive assistance as long as their income met its guidelines. TANF was inspired by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, which added the workforce development component to welfare legislation.


New guidelines are more restrictive, and allow each state to interpret those guidelines to suit the needs of its constituents. TANF guidelines include:

  • Placing a 60-month, or five-year limit on benefits
  • Requiring applicants to seek, and obtain, employment
  • Requiring participants to engage in job training/development activities
  • Reducing the number of people who depend on public assistance

Because state agencies assigned to administer funds have broad discretion regarding their TANF programs, guidelines vary. For example, monthly payments can range from $200 to $800. In some states, the lifetime limit on benefits doesn’t exceed three or four years. Other states will extend benefits beyond guideline limits. Since the economic downturn, a few states will cut families off before they reach their limit.

State agencies can also set the income requirements, work stipulations and rules regarding families with children who have disabilities. The latter does not warrant automatic approval.

Eligibility requirements

All states require that recipients of TANF funds live in the state that is paying benefits. Applicants must be United States citizens, or eligible noncitizens. In most states, guidelines are similar to food assistance programs.

Generally, monetary and non-monetary eligibility requirements include:

  • Income must not exceed 100, 200 or 300 percent of the federal poverty level, although some states have set a requirement that family income must not exceed 50 percent of the poverty level.
  • Assets must not exceed $1,000 to $4,000; a house is typically exempt from the assets qualifications.
  • New parents who are within three months of giving birth to a child may also be eligible.

Income considerations

When a family applies for TANF assistance, all household income must be reported, including child support and Social Security benefits. All adults in the household are required to detail their annual wages.

Other sources of income that will be counted towards a family’s eligibility include:

  • Unemployment compensation
  • Social Security
  • Supplemental Security income
  • Supplemental Security Disability income
  • Child support payments
  • Payments from investments
  • Other government benefits


Individual states have the power to alter the terms of TANF, depending on their state’s needs. Generally, all states have some variation of the following limits:

Applicants may be required to obtain employment or actively seek employment within a pre-determined time after applying for benefits.

TANF funds must be used to benefit families with minor children.

States are permitted to waive work requirements only under certain circumstances, such as having a child at home with a disability.

Single and married beneficiaries may participate in work-related or job-training activities for a pre-determined number of hours.

Many states eliminated cash payments to minors who are single parents and do not live with their parents.

Other provisions of the act include benefit amount and how long benefits will be received.

Employment waiver eligibility

A more recent development of TANF allows states to waive work requirements for families that include a member at home who has a disability or face other barriers to employment that cannot be overcome through job training. By TANF definition, a disability is a barrier.

A waiver, if granted, only exempts parents from employment and training requirements.

It is advisable to check with a caseworker or human services professional to determine whether individual circumstances meet the waiver requirements. Still, it is the state agencies that make the ultimate decisions.

Application process

The first step is to locate the agency that oversees the program. Because government agencies have different names from state to state, look for the agency that provides human services. For example, try the Department of Social Services, Department of Health Services, Department of Human Services or Family Independence Agency.

Before starting the lengthy process, call or visit the agency to learn specific state guidelines. Applications in most states are available online and can be e-mailed or mailed to the appropriate department.

The next step is a one-on-one meeting with a caseworker. Be prepared with documents that support your application. Paperwork should include:

  • IRS tax forms and returns
  • Employment pay stubs
  • Mortgage agreements or statements
  • Rental leases
  • Bank statements
  • Birth certificate
  • Citizenship, resident alien or naturalization paperwork


If approved, you should receive written notice within two months of the amount and terms. Funds will be distributed monthly by way of an EBT card, the same card that is used for food assistance.


If denied, you should receive a letter of denial with an explanation of how determination was made.

Appeal process

There is an appeals process in place for applicants who are denied TANF assistance, or don’t agree with the monthly allocation determination.

As soon as a rejection letter is received, start the appeals process with a letter of disagreement. Most states have time limits on the appeals process, generally 10 to 14 days after the determination is made.

An appeal is a request for a fair hearing in front of an administrative law judge of the state human services division. At this hearing, the judge will hear the case made by human services caseworkers and the family that seeks a re-determination. A decision, based on all of the evidence ascertained by the judge, will be forthcoming after a careful consideration of the facts.

Applicants must bring documents to support their case and be able to answer questions. Applicants who already receive some income, but are disputing the amount, will continue to be paid.

TANF vs. general assistance

TANF is a program that is designed for families. General assistance is designed for adults without dependent children. Although TANF is available in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, general assistance is not available in all states.

Other circumstances to consider

Often times, families that have a child with disabilities do not have the systemic issues that the TANF program aims to address. There’s no lack of education or inability retain employment, and finances are more or less under stress because of a child’s condition. If this is the case, it consider applying for Supplemental Security Income or Supplemental Security Disability Income – both of which are federal programs administered at the state level.

Government Assistance

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Government Assistance

Government assistance – also known as public assistance – is aid, service or supports that are provided to an individual by a government agency based on established criteria – income, disability, dependency or need, for example. Government resources come in the form of cash, food, services, shelter, technology, supports, and more.
Government Assistance