Sometimes circumstances can leave a single mother in a difficult position. 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.


TANF offers temporary financial assistance to single moms to help pay for food, childcare, rent and other living essentials. The program works by providing cash assistance to single moms via an Electronic Benefits Transfer or EBT card that works like any other bank card or debit card. EBT cards can be used to withdraw cash and are accepted at most nationally known retailers including grocery stores and pharmacies.

TANF works like many other programs that offer financial help to single moms with the goal of getting them off welfare with stable employment.  Families become eligible for TANF by falling below certain income requirements with a certain number of dependents. Different states use different income level standards to determine which families are eligible for TANF. Nearly every state, excluding Wisconsin, has an income cut-off for TANF set below the nation’s poverty line. This program also comes with a time limit on how long families can receive benefits. The current welfare law limits a family’s use of TANF to five years; however, some states have shorter time limits in place.

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. These activities can include part-time work, community service, 12 months of vocational education, and on-the-job training. This is because it is wildly effective and many people are able to utilize+9 it. For this reason, TANF is very popular among single mothers and those looking for some daily assistance.

What Is TANF?

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program goal is to promote responsibility, work, and self-sufficiency.

To be eligible for the cash assistance program, you must have a child under the age of 18. When you apply for assistance, your total assets must be less than $1,000. If you own the home that you live in, it is exempt from the total assets.

The single mom can apply for TANF by contacting the local Division of Family Resources Office in the county where she resides. In most cases, it will take 30 to 60 days after the application for the benefit is made to find out if the request is accepted or denied.

When an application is made for assistance under this temporary benefit program, the single mom will have to provide complete information on all children and adults who are in the household. State residency requirements will have to be met and Social Security numbers will have to be provided. Additionally, citizenship or alien requirements will have to be met. You will also have to provide information about child support assignment and employment.

Because TANF is a federal benefit that is run by the state governments, benefits and application requirements may differ from state to state. The availability of funds may also differ depending on the number of needy families who are being assisted by the program. Make sure that you get the information that is appropriate for the County and State in which you reside before applying for the benefit.

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?

TANF Federal Regulation

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.


If you have no job, can you still apply for TANF?

TANF Family Cap for Family of 4

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. Two-parent families must meet a 35 or 55-hour requirement depending on circumstances.


Part of the eligibility conditions for the TANF program in some states is that adult applicants may have to complete 20 days of job search activities. If you are required to participate in the job search or training program and fail to complete it, the application of the cash assistance benefit will be denied. If there is any change in your circumstances that may affect your eligibility for TANF, you must report them to your local DFR office within 10 days of the change.

Single moms can appeal any action that is taken on her case if she feels unsatisfied with the way her application was handled. In this situation, send a written request to have a hearing to your local Division of Family Resources – Hearings and Appeals Section within thirty days after the disputed action was made.

For more information on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, call your local Division of Family Resources office.

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)

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

What benefits will you receive from TANF?

TANF Food Stamps

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. There is no shame in needing help. The shame is in not taking the help that is available to you and your children.

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