Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): The Basics
Authored By: Northwest Justice Project
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is the welfare program that gives cash grants to needy families. This discusses who is eligible for TANF and what is required under the law. #7123EN
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is TANF? +
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.
How do I apply for TANF? +
Depending on the status of the public health emergency, you may also be able to apply in person at your local Community Services Office (CSO). Find the CSO nearest you using www.dshs.wa.gov/office-locations. 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.
I have a disability. Can I get help applying for TANF? +
Can I get TANF? +
Yes, if you have a low income, you live in the state of Washington, and you are
1. 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
2. One of these:
- Pregnant, with no other children in the home.
- A child under 18 living with your parents.
- A child living with a relative or other custodian.
- Age 18–19, you have not graduated from high school and you are a full-time student.
- A person with disabilities age 19–21, in school full-time.
Who cannot get TANF? +
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.
I got approved for TANF. What will I have to do? +
- 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 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.
*Due to the pandemic, DSHS had temporarily stopped requiring WorkFirst activities if you got TANF. But starting September 1, 2021, you have to meet your WorkFirst participation requirements again.
I am a teen. Are there special rules for me? +
Yes. If you are under 18, unmarried, and pregnant or a parent, special rules apply to you. Read TANF for Teen Parents.
How does DSHS decide if I am financially eligible to get TANF? +
DSHS usually counts money you get each month (income) and property you own (resources). DSHS has different rules for different kinds of income.
Can DSHS look at other people's income to decide if I can get TANF? +
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.
What does DSHS not count in deciding if I can get TANF? +
- 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.
Can I get TANF benefits as long as I need them? +
Probably not. Read Questions and Answers on The TANF 5-Year Time Limit.
DSHS denied or made a bad decision about my TANF. +
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.
*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.
How do I ask for a hearing? +
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.
Get Legal Help +
Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help.