What is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)?

Instructor: Leanne White

Leanne has a master's degree and an independent licensure in chemical dependency counseling. She has extended experience in corrections and post-secondary education.

This lesson will explore the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Read on to find out more about eligibility, services, guidelines, and cash assistance standards.

Imagine ...

You and your spouse have four young children. You both have minimum wage jobs and work full-time. With the cost of childcare, school fees, and sports/activity fees, all on top of monthly expenses, finances are tight. You decide to quit your job to save $1,200 a month in childcare. Even though you're not paying for childcare anymore, the loss of your income is hard to adjust to. Wouldn't it be nice if there were a program that could temporarily relieve you and your family of financial burden? You know it wouldn't be long-term because you plan to return to work once your children are in school. Luckily, there's a program perfect for your situation.


The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program is designed to temporarily help families who are not able to reach self-sufficiency themselves. The four goals of the TANF program are to:

  • Encourage the importance of two-parent families
  • Reduce the number of parents on assistance programs by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage
  • Provide essentials to needy families so that children can be cared for in their own homes
  • Prevent and reduce the likelihood of out-of-wedlock pregnancies


TANF provides needy families with job preparation, work assistance, and childcare assistance. The program is funded by federal grants.


In order to qualify for the TANF program, needy families must:

  • Be responsible for at least one child under the age of 19
  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Be unemployed or about to become unemployed
  • Have low to very low income


An individual is only permitted to be in the TANF program for a total of 60 months in his or her entire life (receiving benefits as a child does not count toward your 60 months). Additionally, the individual must be employed no later than two years after beginning the program. The employment must exceed 30 hours per week, or 20 hours if the person is responsible for a child younger than 6 years old.

Cash Assistance

Each state has its own standards as to how much each family receives in cash assistance. For an example, however, let's take a look at Indiana's standards. Below is a chart of how much cash assistance each family is eligible to receive.

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