What Are the Qualifications for Welfare?

One TANF goal is encouraging the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

Aid to Families With Dependent Children was a social assistance program proposed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935. It offered cash to widows and fatherless families, though this was later expanded to include all low-income families with minor children. The program, often simply called welfare, was overhauled in 1993 and renamed Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. It is funded by federal block grants but administered by the states, who can make their own rules about certain aspects of TANF. The basic requirements for TANF are similar across the country, however.

Qualifying Individuals

TANF is meant to provide help to families with minor children living at home. Single individuals with no children are not eligible for TANF, unless they are the caretakers of a relative who is a minor child. All children under the age of 19 are potentially eligible, as are the parents who care for them. Teenage parents are also eligible, although they must live with a responsible adult or in an environment that is supervised by adults. Pregnant women in their last three months can apply for TANF as well.

Citizenship Requirements

TANF recipients must generally be United States citizens or legal aliens. You must be able to provide the Social Security numbers of everyone in your family claiming benefits or proof that you have submitted the paperwork for gaining Social Security numbers when you begin the TANF application process.

Qualifying Income Levels

All states have their own maximum income levels for qualifying for TANF. A family cannot exceed the maximum monthly income level and still be eligible for the program. States may also ask that you pass two income-level tests, gross and net, before qualifying. The maximum income levels might change depending on whether or not you are pregnant, or whether or not a family member is disabled or elderly. Your family may have to pass an asset test as well. Many states automatically disqualify any family that holds more than $1,000 or $2,000 in cash, bank accounts, pension benefits, real estate or vehicles.

Work Requirements

All states have a work requirement you must meet to keep your TANF benefits once your receive them. TANF recipients must engage in a certain number of work hours or work activities or risk their benefits being reduced or terminated. Each state must help TANF users develop a self-sufficiency plan, which takes into account skills, work history and education. As of 2011, single parents generally must work or participate in work activities for at least 20 hours per week, although single parents with children under the age of 6 cannot be penalized if they can't work because they cannot find adequate child care. Two-parent families must work for a combined total of 35 hours, which goes up to 55 hours if the parents get child-care assistance. Teen parents must attend school or job training activities.

references & resources