Families who are not able to keep up with the economic depression often suffer tremendous setbacks. Worst cases saw millions homeless and unable to afford basic needs like food and education.

As a way to reach out and help these families, the U.S. federal government has launched the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF.

Unlike conventional “guaranteed entitlement” programs which preceded it, TANF extends temporary financial assistance1 to families that are living on income below the poverty threshold. The cash can be used to pay for housing mortgages, childcare services for working parents, and for the purchase of food.

But the assistance from the program is not a life-long commitment of the government to the needy. In fact, it promotes self-sufficiency while helping to alleviate the financial conditions of the families.

How to Apply for TANF?

Though the overall TANF program is administered by the Office of Family Assistance, which is part of the Administration for Children and Families, each state is responsible for setting its own specific financial eligibility requirements, and accepting and considering applications for assistance.

While different states implement their own duration period for allowing qualified families into the program, there are some basic requirements that are applicable across all U.S. local governments.

To apply, find the local TANF program in your area to see if you are eligible for temporary assistance.

Those who are eligible for TANF include:

  • Families with a child under the age of 18 who are living with them. The child should also be living with one or both parents, or a legal guardian. A relatives who act as caretakers can also be included on the condition that they meet the requirements to establish their relationship to the child.
  • Women who are in their last trimester of pregnancy may qualify. The unborn child’s father also becomes eligible as long as he lives in the home.
  • As a single mother, you would be required to participate in qualified “work activities”2 for at least 30 hours per week.

In more ways than one, TANF creates an impact on the lives of people who are taken under its wings – with single mothers make up the bulk of welfare recipients.

It encourages these families to never give up and to better their lives when assistance such as this comes. Since it does not last long, TANF recipients should treat the program as their ticket out of an impoverished life.

Argumentatively, TANF does create a “Catch-22″: In most cases, choosing between a job that could potentially lead to financial independence or the TANF benefits.3

Although TANF does not prevent the recipient from seeking higher education, it does make it quite difficult to do so, as recipients opt for keeping low-wage paying jobs to keep TANF’s benefits.4

For this reason, you should not rely solely on TANF benefits, rather, you should ensure that you strive to become self-sufficient so that you can provide for your family all on your own.


  1. In most cases, you may only receive TANF benefits for a maximum of 5 years (or 60 months). []
  2. Source: TANF Overview – HHS.gov []
  3. Flint. L M. (2009) Problems with TNAF. []
  4. Lens, V. (2002). TANF: What Went Wrong and What to Do Next. Social Work, 47(3), 279-290. []

Last updated: June 16, 2012 by & filed under Financial Aid

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