Your Guide to Welfare Benefits Across the U.S.

Welfare funds are available to low-income families throughout the United States. This program’s official name is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and qualified candidates can apply to this program and receive financial assistance. Generally, these funds are available on a short-term basis to candidates who are undergoing periods of economic instability. While each state is responsible for determining who can collect this form of public assistance, these basic requirements are consistent across the country.

In most cases, claimants must contact their local welfare office to determine if they might be able to collect program funds. Petitioners will also need to contact a nearby TANF office to apply for the program. Some candidates may be nervous about contacting the government for financial assistance due to stigma from receiving financial help or for other reasons. However, applicants should not let this reason prevent them from asking for the help they need. At any point in their lives, anyone could need TANF benefits to help support them. Therefore, claimants should focus on regaining their financial security and learning if they qualify for this monetary aid.

What is welfare?

Public welfare is available to households that are undergoing periods of economic instability as a result of circumstances such as job loss, workplace injury or the loss of a family member. As a federal program, this initiative is available in all 50 states. However, each state decides the exact terms of its TANF program. Since individual states manage these programs, different places may call this public assistance initiative by a different name. Applicants should keep this information in mind when they search for these benefits in their own communities.

Prospective claimants may wonder what is TANF and what types of funding they can collect through this program. Generally, these welfare benefits are only available to recipients for a set period of time. In many states, families may only collect these benefits for a maximum of five years. However, some states may offer benefits for shorter periods of time. In any case, this is usually a lifetime limit, so recipients cannot exceed this total enrollment maximum throughout the course of their lives. However, enrollees can usually combine their TANF benefits with other public programs, including:

  • Social Security Income (SSI).
  • Unemployment insurance (UI).
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
  • Disability compensation.
  • Child support.

Learn About TANF Requirements

In order to collect TANF benefits, there are certain prerequisites for enrollment that claimants must meet. Different parts of the country set their own individual requirements, since TANF eligibility is determined by state governments. Therefore, petitioners must be sure to communicate with their local welfare office to determine if they qualify for benefits in their home states. However, there are some basic requirements that applicants and their families must meet to enroll in the program. These include:

  • Social Security Numbers (SSNs): All family members in a petitioning household must possess valid SSNs. Claimants will need to report this information to the state department when they submit their applications. If applicable, foreign-born applicants also need to prove that they applied for these identification numbers.
  • Work requirements: In some states, claimants who wish to collect welfare benefits need to fulfill specific work search requirements. Different states may impose limits on how many hours of training and searching they must complete.
  • Attending school: Families need to ensure that their school-aged children are in class on time each day. Petitioning households with children who do not maintain satisfactory attendance will not be able to receive TANF.
  • Applying for other benefits: In order to enroll in this public assistance program, some states require that petitioners apply for and receive funds through other government support initiatives.
  • Household income: Families need to meet the income and earnings limits that the states establish for their household sizes. Often, the public assistance office will also assess families’ collective assets, as well.

How to Apply for TANF

Once claimants decide that they want to apply for TANF benefits, they need to prepare their application materials. In most instances, petitioners can apply online or using paper applications. Furthermore, applicants must also remember that many states use the same paper forms for different public assistance programs. This allows claimants to apply for different forms of assistance all at once. Candidates should be prepared to include the following information in their enrollment applications:

  • Citizenship information: In order to collect TANF, petitioners need to be U.S. citizens or immigrants who are properly registered with the federal government.
  • Disabilities: Families must disclose if anyone in their homes have disabilities that prevent them from completing certain tasks, such as working.
  • General household information: Petitioners must provide the names, SSNs and contact information for all of the individuals who live with them.
  • Family earnings: When claimants apply for welfare benefits, they must report how much income the members of their households earn on a regular basis.

About Completing the TANF Interview

After petitioners apply for TANF, most states will require them to participate in interviews with welfare department officials. These conversations are usually a standard part of the enrollment process. During these conversations, applicants need to discuss why they qualify for public assistance. In some instances, candidates will also need to provide documentation that proves they meet the state enrollment prerequisites. Depending on the applicants’ circumstances, they may need to bring proof of the following information to their interviews:

  • In-state residency: Driver’s license, lease, utility bills.
  • Earnings: Paystubs, letters from the claimants’ employers.
  • Family assets: Stock information, savings and checking account balances.
  • SSN: Tax documents, certain driver’s licenses.
  • Immigration status: Visa, passport, Employment Authorization card.

How can I spend my TANF?

Once claimants are accepted to receive TANF, they can begin using their program funds. Most states deliver funds to enrollees through electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards. In most cases, the public assistance office distributes these cards to beneficiaries once they are accepted into the program. Most major grocery retailers accept these cards and recipients can use their EBT cards like any other debit or credit cards. However, they must be sure to keep track of the amount of funds they have available in their accounts so they do not run out of benefits.