Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Frequently Asked Questions

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) helps low-income families by giving them money to pay for basic needs like food, clothing, and rent. At the same time, TANF (sometimes called Cash Assistance) helps these families find ways to become more financially stable by offering things like:

  • Education and training
  • Workshops on resume writing or interviewing
  • Job referrals
  • Help applying for other benefit programs, or
  • Other steps to create more income.

TANF also helps with things like child care or finding housing.

TANF is part of the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which has different names (and somewhat different rules) in different states. Learn more about TANF.

To get Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), you must:

  • Be an Illinois resident (if you are experiencing homelessness, you can still qualify)
  • Be unemployed, underemployed, or about to become unemployed
  • Have a child under age 18 at home, or be pregnant
  • Be a U.S. citizen or qualified alien
  • Have very low or no income (see details below)
  • Work with a caseworker to create a Responsibility and Services Plan (RSP) listing the steps needed to make you more financially stable, then sign and follow your RSP, and
  • Cooperate with any efforts to get child support payments for your children, if applicable (unless you have good cause not to because of domestic violence or other potential harm). Note: If you are a non-parent caretaker relative, you are encouraged but not required to cooperate with efforts to get child support payments.

Learn more about who can get TANF (sometimes called Cash Assistance).

You can apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF):

No matter which way you apply, you can choose to use this same application to also apply for TANF, SNAP (formerly Food Stamps), Medicaid, and other benefits programs. If you need help deciding how to apply, call the Illinois Department of Human Services Help Line at 1-800-843-6154.

Learn more about how to apply for TANF.

If you qualify for TANF (even if you have not yet been officially approved for benefits), the Crisis Assistance program may be able give you quick help (within 5 days), if you are in urgent need because:

  • You've experienced a fire, flood, or other natural disaster
  • You were evicted, or ordered by a court order to leave your home
  • You're a survivor of domestic or sexual violence
  • Your cash was lost or stolen
  • You need a place to stay overnight, or
  • You need transportation in order to get medical care (non-routine).

Depending on your situation, you may be able to get help with rent, furniture, household supplies, clothing, food, lodging, or transportation. Learn more about Crisis Assistance.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) defines a family as one or two parents (or other relative caregivers) living with their child or children under 18. (If a child already getting TANF turns 18, they must be a full-time high school student to keep getting TANF benefits.) A family can include biological children, step children, adopted children, and children of relatives.

A family getting TANF benefits is called a "unit" and doesn't always include every family member when deciding if you can get cash benefits and how much. For example, a grandparent or great-grandparent living in the household is not automatically part of the TANF family unit; they can choose to NOT be included, which means their income isn't counted when deciding if the family qualifies for TANF.

In some cases, a family unit can be "child-only," where the child gets benefits but the parent (or relative caretaker) does not. For example, if you can't get TANF because you have a disability and get SSI benefits, your 8-year-old daughter might qualify for TANF on a child-only basis.

Learn more about who TANF includes as part of your family unit.

There’s a limit to how much income you can have and still qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), based on the size of your family. Not all income is included, and they may not count every family member.

To see if you can get benefits, the Illinois TANF:

  1. Adds up the total earned income (wages, tips, and self-employment profits) for your family unit and then subtracts what is called an Initial Employment Deduction (IED) based on the size of your unit. The Illinois Department of Human Services provides a chart of IED amounts based on family size.
  2. Adds any unearned income, like unemployment benefits, investment income, or other money you get that isn’t from work. (Not all unearned income is counted, for example TANF does not count benefits from SNAP.)
  3. This total (earned income, minus IED, plus countable unearned income) is your family's countable income when applying for TANF.

If your countable family income is more than the monthly TANF benefit for the size of your family, you are not eligible for TANF benefits. If it less than the standard payment, you can get TANF benefits. The Illinois Department of Human Services provides a chart of TANF payment amounts based on family unit size.

For example, a family of two (one parent, one child under 18) can get TANF if their countable income is less than $575, while a family of three qualifies if their countable income is less than $725 a month.

Learn more about qualifying for TANF benefits.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) looks at your income when deciding if you qualify for benefits, but there is no limit on the amount of resources you have. Learn more about who can get TANF benefits.

If you qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in Illinois, they calculate your monthly benefit by:

  1. Subtracting the Earned Income Deduction (EID) from your earned income. The EID is 75%, which means they only count 25% or what you earn, or $1 out of every $4. For example, if you have a part-time job and make $400 a month, TANF says your EID is $300 and you only have $100 in countable income. (If your income is different each month, estimates how much you expect to earn in a year, and divides that by 12.)

  2. Adding in any unearned income you get (like unemployment benefits, investment income, or other money you get that isn’t from work) to get your total countable income.

  3. Figuring out the highest TANF benefit your family can get based on your family’s size and living situation. For example, the maximum benefit for a family with one parent and one child is $575 per month. The Illinois Department of Human Services has a chart of TANF Payment Levels by family size.

  4. Subtracting the maximum benefit possible for a family like yours (step 3) from your family’s countable income (step 2), which gives the amount your family gets each month.

If you earn money at work, the TANF program is designed so that your benefit never goes down by as much money as you make. That means that you’ll always be better off if you have a job.

Learn more about TANF and work.

Your TANF monthly payments are sent to you through your Illinois Link Card, a plastic card that looks and works like a debit card. Learn more about understanding your TANF benefits.

You can get monthly cash benefits from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) for up to 60 months (five years), as long as you continue to qualify and meet the requirements of your Responsibility and Services Plan. Sometimes referred to as the "time clock," the 60 months is a lifetime limit. For example, if you get benefits for 12 months, go off TANF for a while, and then get back on later, you only have 48 months of cash benefits remaining.

The time clock "runs" any month you get a cash benefit from TANF. However, a month might not count against the limit (called "stopping the clock") if you work a required number of hours, attend college full-time, have a child with a disability, or meet any other exceptions to the 60-month limit. Learn more about the TANF time clock.

If you get Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), you and a caseworker create a Responsibility and Services Plan (RSP) that lists everything you and your family need to become more financially stable.

Your RSP should include:

  • What you agree to do while getting TANF benefits, and
  • What the state agrees to do to help you.

The RSP is based on your situation, and lists activities that you need to do each week. These activities are usually work-related, but can be anything you need to do before looking for work, like applying for disability, mental health, or substance abuse services. If you or someone you care for has a disability, your RSP could include activities like applying for disability benefits or getting medical care. If you are at risk of homelessness, your RSP may include taking specific steps to find stable housing. And if your children have health problems, your plan could include getting them medical care.

If your family's needs change over time or as you meet your goals on your RSP, you and a caseworker will create a new RSP, listing the next steps you need to take. For example, your first RSP might list what you need to do to finish your education, and after you finish school your next RSP would list the steps you need to take to look for work.

Learn more about RSPs.

If you get Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits and are considered able to work, you are required to do a certain number of hours of "work activities" each week as part of your Responsibilities and Services Plan (RSP). Work activities can include doing things like subsidized work, work experience, actively looking for a job, on-the-job training, or community service. The work activities listed in your RSP are based on your situation. For example, if someone you care for has a disability, your plan could include activities like applying for disability benefits for that person, or getting them medical care. If you are at risk of homelessness, your RSP may include taking specific steps to find stable housing.

Learn more about work activities for TANF.

If you earn money at work, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program is designed so that your benefit never goes down by as much money as you make. That means that you’ll always be better off if you have a job. Learn more about working with TANF.

In most cases you cannot get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) at the same time (there may be an exception if your SSI or SSDI is unusually low). Note: Even if you can't get TANF because you get SSI or SSDI (or for any other reason), other members of your family (including your children) may be able to get TANF benefits without you, so it can still be a good idea to apply for TANF.

Learn more