Eligibility depends on a family’s cash income (including earnings), assets, and family structure (whether pregnant, a minor parent, a stepparent). To encourage employment, states typically disregard some earnings from income before calculating eligibility and benefit levels. Parents on TANF usually are required to participate in work activities and are subject to penalties (sanctions) when they do not.
Eligibility requirements and benefit levels vary greatly by state. Federal funds may not be used for a family with an adult who has received assistance for 60 months, though states can exempt up to 20 percent of the caseload from this time limit for “hardship.” Many states have shorter benefit time limits than the federal maximum, although five states did not have time limits in 2010. Documented immigrants who entered the country after August 1996 can receive TANF after living in the United States for five years, but states’ rules vary.
For example, a single mother and two children living in Colorado could receive a monthly cash benefit of $462 if they have no cash income (e.g., from earnings, child support, unemployment insurance) and if they have not already received cash assistance for five years. The mother must follow all the program rules (such as continual job search) or the family will lose 25 percent of this benefit. If a similar mother works and earns $511 a month, her family would not be eligible for a cash TANF benefit. Colorado disregards $90 a month in earnings before applying the maximum net income eligibility test.
2011 General Rules for TANF Caseload Not Exempt from Work Requirements