Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): The Basics

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:

  • Read this only if you live in the state of Washington.
  • You can find all the fact sheets we link to here at WashingtonLawHelp.org.
  • If you get public benefits like SSI, food stamps, or TANF, and you have 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 the state of Washington, the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) runs the TANF program. 


You can call (877) 501-2233 or apply online.
You may also be able to apply in person at your local Community Services Office (CSO).  Find the CSO nearest you. When you get there, ask for a TANF application. You have the right to file a written application.  They should not turn you away at the front desk without letting you file an application.


Yes, if you have a low income, you live in the state of Washington, and you are:



One of these:

And any of these:

A U.S. citizen

Pregnant, with no other children in the home.

Have a green card

A child under 18 living with your parents.

An American Indian born outside the U.S.

A child living with a relative or other adult who is responsible for your care and custody.

A trafficking victim

Age 18–19, you have not graduated from high school and you are a full-time student.

Hmong or Highland Lao

A person with disabilities age 19–21, in school full-time.

An eligible “qualified alien”



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 worker on strike.
  • 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 60-month TANF time limit has ended.

You must:

  • Give DSHS the right to collect and keep child support to pay back the TANF they give you.
  • 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.
  • Work with DSHS when they check to see if you are still eligible to get TANF.
  • Tell DSHS if you move or get any money, or if your household size changes.
  • Make sure your child age 16–18 goes to school.  If you do not, 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.
  • Take part in WorkFirst activities, unless you have good reason not to. Read Questions and Answers about WorkFirst: The Basics to learn more.

Yes. If you are 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 money you get each month (income) and property you own (resources). DSHS has different rules for different kinds of income. 

Maybe, if you are a “sponsored alien”.  There are some exceptions to this. They can also look at your parents’ incomes if you are 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

* If you get TANF, you can have up to $6,000 in savings without losing your grant.

Probably not.
Read Questions and Answers on the TANF 5-Year Time Limit to learn more.   

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 denies your application, imposes WorkFirst requirements you disagree with, “sanctions” you (lowers the amount), or stops your TANF grant. 
Read How to Fight a Denial of DSHS Public Assistance and How to Fight a Termination or Reduction of DSHS Public Assistance to learn more.

  • If you get a notice saying DSHS is going to lower or end your TANF, you can keep getting the same amount of TANF if you ask for a hearing within ten days of the date of the notice. You must specifically ask for continued assistance.

Write to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH):

Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH)
P. O. Box 42488
Olympia, WA 98504

If it is an emergency, ask them to hold the hearing as soon as possible. Call OAH at (360) 664-8717 or 1-800-583-8271. Ask for an expedited hearing. 
Otherwise, they will probably schedule your hearing 20 days or more after you asked for it. 

  • You must ask for a hearing no later than 90 days after the date DSHS took the action you disagree with. 

Read Representing Yourself in an Administrative Hearing to learn more. If you want someone to represent you, or help you get ready to represent yourself, see contact info below.

Get Legal Help

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

Download | Printer-friendly

Last Review and Update: Mar 01, 2022
Was this information helpful?
Back to top