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Help for Struggling Families: How to Apply for TANF in Your State

Each state has its own Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to help people in need. Here's how to find out more about yours and apply.

A stack of $20 and $10 bills on a purple background
You can apply to get temporary cash assistance from your state.
James Martin/CNET

Many families across the US are struggling financially from price hikes from inflation, while also still recovering from the impact of the pandemic. Now that the cold winter months are here, people are looking for a way to keep the heat on and provide food for their families. Each state has a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program you can apply to for help getting back on your feet. 

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The TANF program was created when the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 was signed into law by former President Bill Clinton. It's designed to help low-income families with children become economically self-sufficient. The program currently provides $16.5 billion to all 50 states, Washington, DC, and other US territories.

Here's what you need to know about the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and how to apply. For more, here's how to find out if energy assistance programs can help your high energy bills.

How does TANF work?

Each state uses TANF block grants to fund monthly cash assistance payments to low-income families with children. While each state's program is different, they're all designed to help struggling families by providing cash support. 

Depending on the state you live in, the assistance offered can vary. Some may offer emergency assistance for those nearing homelessness due to an emergency. Some states may also offer programs like Higher Opportunity for Pathways to Employment in addition to TANF, which helps parents complete training and education beyond high school. 

The states can use the money from the federal government to help provide child care and help parents with job preparation. 

Am I eligible to receive TANF?

The TANF program bases eligibility on your income, and it also depends on which state you live in. For example, the maximum monthly gross income limit in Mississippi for a family of three is $680. For California, your family must not have more than $2,250 in income resources.

Some other requirements could include having at least one of the following in your family: Someone who is pregnant, a dependent under age 18 or a dependent in college.

To find out more about eligibility where you live, contact your state's benefits office.

$100 bills lying on a laptop keyboard

Some states have a portal where you can apply.

James Martin/CNET

How long can I receive TANF assistance?

Again, it depends on your state, but in most cases, you can receive TANF assistance for up to 60 months total in your lifetime. Each month you receive assistance will count toward the 60 months. So if one year you use TANF for five months, you'll have 55 months remaining.

After you've used all 60 months, states can make the decision to exceed the 60-month limit based on hardship.

How do I apply to start getting TANF relief?

It all depends on the state you live in. For instance, some states offer an online portal you can apply through, while others still require you to fill out an application and either mail it in or visit an office nearest to you.

To get started, visit the US Department of Health and Human Services Help for Families webpage. From here, you can select the state you live in, which can provide you with the information you need to get started. 

You should see the state's office address and phone number to reach out with any questions you have. Each state has its own website that links out to details about the programs it offers. For example, Kentucky has the Transitional Assistance Program, known as K-TAP, and California has the Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids, or CALWORKS, program.

Some states, like Kansas, offer a portal where you can check your eligibility online, apply for benefits and access them online.

For more, here's how to unlock savings of $34 or more each month on your home internet bill.

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