TANF and WorkFirst for College Students

If you get a TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) grant, you probably have to take part in WorkFirst if you want to go to college and keep getting TANF. #7138EN

Please Note:

This fact sheet assumes you are a single parent. The rules for two-parent households are a little different. Talk to your case manager to learn more.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Yes, you should read this if you live in Washington State, you get or are applying for TANF (Temporary Assistance for Families), and you want to go to college. 

You will learn that if you want to get TANF while in college, you might have to do WorkFirst, and what that means. You will learn how DSHS could excuse you temporarily from doing WorkFirst, and if it would affect your other benefits to not get TANF while you are in college. 

Almost all parents who get TANF must take part in WorkFirst to keep getting TANF. This means following a written plan (called an Individual Responsibility Plan or IRP) agreed on by you and DSHS to get training for, look for, and get a job. Many people's first WorkFirst activity is 12 weeks of job search.

 Read WorkFirst: The Basics to learn more.

Maybe not. If you are already working 20 hours or have at least 16 hours of work-study a week, DSHS will let you get TANF while in college without also having to do a job search. There may be more work requirements later. 

We also discuss other possible options for you below. This fact sheet might help you figure out a good plan for yourself. Talk to your case manager or a lawyer (contact info below) to learn more about your options. 

Maybe, if you are taking a 1-year information technology, health care or other professional-technical program at a state community or technical college, or maybe a 4-year program in one of these fields. 

WorkFirst would still require you to do "stand-alone activities" in this situation, but those activities would take less time than working or looking for work. Talk to the WorkFirst case manager at your local community college to learn more. 

If you disagree with DSHS and your case manager about the best plan for your success, you can choose just not to take part in WorkFirst. However, if you do not have a good reason not to do WorkFirst, DSHS will punish (will sanction) you by giving you less or no TANF. Read WorkFirst Sanctions to learn more.

It depends. You must figure out how to have enough income to meet your basic needs and childcare. You might replace what you lose from your TANF with school financial aid. Talk to a financial aid officer at your school. 

You could also try to get work-study. Work-Study earnings do not count as income or affect your TANF amount. And 16 or more hours of work-study will meet the Work First participation requirement. Your IRP should also include community college or other technical or vocational training.

If you can't get work-study, you could work enough hours to make up for the TANF you lose from the sanction. DSHS only "counts" half of your gross take-home pay. It lowers your TANF by the other half. Starting August 1, 2024, DSHS will let you keep the first $500 of your earnings, and half of what is left after that. 

If you are sanctioned, you may get your sanction lifted temporarily if you work during the summer. 

You still must work 20 hours a week. Your IRP should list your school hours as "VU" (Vocational Unapproved). 

To meet WorkFirst in a 4-year degree program, you could combine work-study with other paid work to equal 20 hours a week. 

Yes. You can get Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) for any hours you work. If your schooling and your work-study hours are part of your IRP, you can get child care for those times.

Medical benefits:  No.

Food stamps:  Maybe. You are excused (exempt) from food stamps work requirements if you are in college at least half-time and you get TANF. If you go off TANF, then one of these other things must be true for you:

  • You already work at least 20 hours a week or are doing work-study.

  • You are responsible for more than one-half of the care of a child aged 5 or younger.

  • You are responsible for more than one-half of the care of a child aged 6 through 11 when you cannot get childcare so you can go to class and work 20 hours a week or do work-study.

  • You are a single parent caring for your child aged 11 or younger.

  • You have parental responsibility for a child aged 11 or younger. The child's parents and your spouse do not live with you.

If you think DSHS made a mistake, you can speak with a supervisor, ask for a hearing, or both. Read How to fight a termination or reduction of DSHS public assistance and Representing Yourself at an Administrative Hearing to learn more.

Get Legal Help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help. 

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Last Review and Update: May 22, 2023
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