Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): The Basics

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TANF is the welfare program that gives cash grants to needy families. Read this to learn if you are eligible to get TANF and what is required of you if you get TANF. #7123EN

Please Note:

If you get public benefits like SSI, food stamps, or TANF, and you've gotten legal financial obligations (LFOs) refunded by the Court, you may need to follow "spend down requirements" to keep getting benefits. You should tell DSHS about this refund as soon as possible. If you have questions, call CLEAR at 1-888-201-1014 or see contact info below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

This welfare program gives needy families monthly cash payments. In Washington State, the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) runs the TANF program.

You can call 877-501-2233 or apply online at washingtonconnection.org. Depending on staffing, you may also be able to apply in person at your local Community Services Office (CSO). Find the CSO nearest you using dshs.wa.gov/office-locations.

You have the right to file a written application. If you go to apply in-person, they shouldn't turn you away at the front desk without letting you file an application.

Yes, if you have a low income, you live in Washington State, and you are:

One of these:

  • A U.S. citizen
  • Have a green card
  • An American Indian born outside the U.S.
  • A trafficking victim
  • Hmong or Highland Lao
  • An eligible "qualified alien"

And any of these:

  • Pregnant, with no other children in the home.
  • A child under age 18 living with your parents.
  • A child living with a relative or other adult who is responsible for your care and custody.
  • Age 18–19, you haven't graduated from high school, and you're a full-time student.
  • A person with disabilities age 19–21, in school full-time.

You cannot get TANF if you:

  • Are fleeing the state after you were convicted of a felony.
  • Have broken your probation or parole.
  • Are a striking worker.
  • Are an undocumented immigrant.
  • Are a "lawfully present" alien and not eligible for other reasons.
  • Are a child living with a parent or adult relative whose TANF time limit has ended.

You must:

  1. Give DSHS the right to collect and keep child support to pay back the TANF they give you.
  2. Work with DSHS when they figure out parentage and child support for your children. They may excuse you from this if it would harm you or the children.
  3. Work with DSHS when they check to see if you're still eligible to get TANF.
  4. Tell DSHS if you move or get any money, or if your household size changes.
  5. Make sure your child aged 16–18 goes to school. If you don't, DSHS can subtract the child from your grant until the child goes back to school. If this is your only child, you will both lose TANF.
  6. Take part in WorkFirst activities, unless you have good reason not to. Read WorkFirst: The Basics to learn more.

Yes. If you're under age 18, unmarried, and pregnant or a parent, special rules apply to you. Read TANF for Teen Parents to learn more.

DSHS usually counts the money you get each month (your income) and property you own (your resources). DSHS has different rules for different kinds of income. 

Maybe, if you're a "sponsored alien."  There are exceptions to this. They can also look at your parents' incomes if you're a teen parent living at home.

  • Any stimulus payment you got due to the pandemic
  • Any SSI your household gets
  • Money you use to pay child support
  • A vehicle with equity value up to $10,000
  • A vehicle you use to transport a family member with a disability
  • Your home and surrounding property
  • Your household furnishings and personal possessions
  • Term or burial insurance up to $1,500
  • A burial plot
  • Up to $6,000 in savings

It depends. Generally, households don't get more than 5 years (60 months) of TANF. But if it would cause your family hardship, for example if you're a domestic violence survivor or if starting July 1, 2024 you have a child under age 2 at home, you may be able to get TANF for longer.  

Anytime DSHS makes a verbal or written decision that affects your TANF, you can ask for an administrative hearing on that decision. You can ask for a hearing if DSHS turns down (denies) your application, imposes WorkFirst requirements you disagree with, punishes you by giving you less TANF (sanctions you), or stops (terminates) your TANF grant.

Read I applied for Benefits. DSHS said no, How to Fight a Termination or Reduction of DSHS Public Assistance, and Representing Yourself in an Administrative Hearing to learn more. If you want someone to represent you at the hearing, or help you get ready to represent yourself, see contact info below.

You have up to 90 days from the date of the termination or reduction notice to ask for an administrative hearing. If circumstances beyond your control, such as medical issues, housing instability, language barriers, or domestic violence, keep you from meeting that deadline, you should still ask for a hearing as soon as you can.

If you currently get benefits and want them to stay the same until the judge decides your case, you must ask for a hearing no later than 10 days after the agency sent you notice or, if the 10 days falls before the end of the month, you have until the end of the month the notice says your benefits will stop or be less. You must specifically ask for continued assistance.

There are different ways you can do this.

  • In writing: Write the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), P.O. Box 42488,
    Olympia, WA 98504.
  • Verbally: You can call OAH at (360) 407-2700 or 1-800-583-8271 or tell DSHS that you want a hearing. DSHS may have you follow up with a written request.

If you contact OAH to ask for a hearing and to keep getting benefits until your hearing, you should also call your DSHS office and let them know you asked for a hearing and continued benefits.

If it's an emergency, you should call OAH to ask them to hold the hearing as soon as possible. This is called anexpedited hearing. Otherwise, your hearing will probably be 20 days or more after you ask for it.

Get Legal Help

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

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Last Review and Update: May 10, 2024
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