Cash Assistance – Low Income Families

The plight of financial hardship is reaching new levels for millions of American families. According to the most recent Census on Poverty, the vast number of poverty stricken Americans still remain in a state of poverty.

The unexpected loss of a job or suffering a disabling injury can move an otherwise financially stable family into the grips of unrelenting poverty and financial hardship. Left without cash or a means to financially survive the storm, the consequence can mean homelessness.

In response, the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) provides monthly cash benefits to low and no-income families in financial distress. The federal government, in conjunction with their local state partners administer the program and distribute badly needed cash to those families that meet the programs financial eligibility criteria.

For local information on Cash Assistance and other no-income low-income helpful resources, select your state from the list below:


U.S. Citizenship

To qualify for cash assistance you must be a U.S. citizen or be legally eligible for citizenship, and be a legal state resident from the state in which you seek state assistance. For more information on immigration status consider consulting with a immigration attorney.

Insufficient Income

The TANF cash assistance program is designed around the income needs of families whose incomes and resources are insufficient to meet the basic needs of the family. Each state determines income and asset eligibility based on their local requirements. The over riding policy concern is to prevent a family from slipping into a homeless cycle.

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Recipients of cash assistance must participate in either job training and/or work as soon as they are job-ready but in no event later than two years from the time the recipient first received financial assistance. Failure to comply with job training and work requirements will result in either a reduction or termination of TANF cash benefits.

In most cases single-parent families are required to work an average of 30 hours per week, or an average of 20 hours per week if they have a child under age six. Two-parent families must work an average of 35 hours a week. However, it is against federal policy for any state to disqualify or otherwise penalize single parents with a child under six for failing to meet job training and work requirements if they are unable to obtain adequate child care.

Job And Training Waivers

For some cash assistance applicants, specifically, senior citizens and those with physical or mental disabilities, must apply for and obtain a work and training waiver in order to be relieved of this requirement.

Time Limits In Receiving Assistance

The amount of time a recipient can receive cash benefits is not indefinite. Distribution of cash assistance is intended to prevent homelessness and provide temporary financial relief while the recipient is seeking employment or is being trained in order to obtain employment. Consequently, families that have received cash assistance for a total of sixty months are ineligible to receive further cash aid under program.

Other Limits and Restrictions To Cash Benefits

Each state has autonomy to set their own distribution limits and eligibility standards to fit the economic needs of its own population. In this regard, income eligibility limits between states can vary significantly. For example, nearly a third of all states have an income limit of less than 50 percent of the published federal poverty line.

Other states differ in this regard. In general, the cash payout levels can range from less than $200 to a $1,000 per month for a single-parent family of three. For more information on your particular needs and benefit allocation, you can call call the federal program directly at 202-401-9275.

Drug Testing Recipients of TANF Benefits

Similar to the employers right to drug test employees as a condition of employment, a growing number of states are trying to pass laws requiring that recipients of TANF benefits be drug tested as a condition to their continued participation in the program.

Legislative proposals on drug testing however vary widely and have been legally challenged by public interest groups. If a participant has tested positive for drugs, some states mandate the immediate termination of cash benefits. Other states have offered proposals such as Connecticut, Illinois and New York, that would require substance abuse evaluation and treatment as a consequence of testing positive.

Regarding TANF recipients that have been convicted of a felony drug offense, according to a 2011 report by the Office of Human Services Policy, Department of Health and Human Services, 11 states have imposed the TANF ban on all drug felons, 26 states plus the District of Columbia have modified the ban to impose it only under certain conditions, and 13 states had opted out entirely from the ban.


If you are in financial hardship and facing the possibility of homelessness, for more information on state and federal assistance programs including food stamp availability, locating low income housing, emergency shelters and food banks, visit the GotTrouble Financial Hardship Food and Shelter Resource Directory.

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