Sometimes circumstances can leave a single mother in a difficult position. She may be forced to choose between paying her bills and using money to purchase groceries for her family. Many single mothers struggle to make ends meet on minimum wage incomes or no incomes at all. Even those who are able to collect child support often find it isn’t enough to provide for a family in this rising economy. Rather than continuing to struggle or worse, falling more deeply into debt, there are resources that can help in a number of areas such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF.
The current program as it exists today was enacted in 1997 and replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. It offers a cash benefit to indigent American families with dependent children. Some people refer to the cash payout as welfare.
Reasons You Might Need TANF Assistance
There are a number of reasons you could find yourself in need of financial assistance. A divorce or death could leave you on your own with little or no income. Perhaps child support payments haven’t begun yet or don’t exist. Even if you are working, the prohibitive costs of medical services may be too much for you to afford.
A long illness or injury could leave you unable to work for some time. Your disability benefits, if you have them, may not kick in for weeks or even months, leaving you strapped for cash to pay bills and feed your family.
Any number of things can happen that leave us in a tough spot. Rather than relying on the kindness and generosity of friends and family – which could run out at any time – applying for TANF is your best option.
Why should you apply for TANF?
This federal assistance program offers many benefits that the single mother can make good use of. One of the most helpful aspects of the program is the lengthy 60 month maximum benefit payout limit. Those who meet eligibility requirements can receive benefits for a total of 60 months lifetime. If you only need assistance for a year, the other unused 48 months remain available to you should you ever need assistance again.
Alternately, if you need help for a consecutive five years, say until your youngest child is able to go to school, the help is there for you. Individual states have a great of control over aspects of the program including this eligibility term. Check with your state on any limits that differ from those mentioned here.
How does applying for TANF help you?
The idea behind TANF is to help people get back on their feet, primarily through work. That is, in part, why the program is limited to 60 months. Most people can get the education they need to improve their skill set and find employment in that amount of time. The plan requires adults to find employment within 24 months of first accepting benefits. Even your own benefits are reduced or eliminated at the 24 month mark because you have been unable to find adequate employment, your dependent children are still eligible for benefits. This can be a tremendous help.
If you have no job, can you still apply for TANF?
While each state has discretion as to how to apply TANF within their borders, the majority follow the basic guidelines in determining eligibility for the benefits and services TANF offers. Under those guidelines, single moms may be eligible for benefits if they meet the following:
- Those accepting benefits must begin work as soon as they are able or within 2 years of acceptance into the program. There are some exceptions to this rule so you will want to check with your TANF office. One of importance to those with young children is the state cannot penalize you for being unable to find adequate child care so you can work if your children are under the age of 6. If your children are over 6 and you fail to work, you risk losing your benefits.
- Single parents must fulfill a work activity requirement of 30 hours per week. For single parents with children under the age of 6, the work activities requirement is dropped to 20 hours per week. Two-parent families must meet a 35 or 55 hour requirement depending on circumstances.
What work activities are required of TANF recipients?
In order to maintain eligibility for TANF benefits, single moms have to fulfill 20 to 30 hours of work activities. There are two categories of work activities: Core Work Activities and Non-core Work Activities. If you are required to fulfill 30 hours, at least 20 hours of activities must come form the core group.
The following activities are considered qualifying core activities:
- Providing childcare for another TANF recipient engaged in community service
- Work experience
- Unsubsidized employment
- Participation in a community service program
- On-the-job training
- Subsidized private sector employment
- Vocational education training (limited to 12 months)
- Subsidized public sector employment
- Job search (limited to no more than 4 weeks in a row or 6 weeks total)
These are the non-core actives approved by TANF:
- Attending a GED program or some type of secondary schooling program
- Obtaining education that relates to your job field/employment
- Training that improves your job skills
Other limitations of the program are that benefits are available to legal immigrants unless they have been in the country for a minimum of five years.
What benefits will you receive from TANF?
If you apply for benefits under TANF and are approved, you will receive cash assistance. This cash can be used to pay for food, medical care, child care or to cover other expenses you as a single mother are facing. This cash benefit is in addition to any other housing subsidy or food stamp help you may be getting or qualify for. With few limitations on how the money can be used, this program is one of the most helpful assistance programs available today. There is no shame in needing help. The shame is in not taking the help that is available to you and your children.