Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Common Pitfalls

Not applying

If you think you might be eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or other benefits but you are not sure, the online Check If I Should Apply is a quick way to see if you might qualify for TANF, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, or other benefits (it takes about 15 minutes). And even if the tool says you might not be eligible, you can still apply just in case giving more details about your situation means you qualify after all.

Not filling out the application completely or correctly

Whether you apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) online through the Illinois Application for Benefits Eligibility, using a paper application (also available in Spanish), or through your local DHS Family Community Resource Center, the process can feel long and complicated. It's important to fill out the application correctly and completely. Read everything carefully and supply all the information that is needed, and say "yes" to applying for other benefits program (it's all done with one application) and not just TANF, so you get all the help that you can.

Not reporting changes to your income or living situation

You must report it when:

  • Your income goes up or down, or you have a new source of income.
  • You move to a new address.
  • Someone leaves or joins your household.

If you don't report these changes on time, you may get an overpayment, which you will have to repay. You can report these changes:

If you only need to report a change of address (and nothing else) you can do that online using your Illinois Link Card account.

Typically you need to report a change within 10 days of learning about the change. However, if you have earned income and your status is "Mid-Point Reporter" (see Redetermination) you can wait and report any changes to your income on either your Mid-Point Report (MPR) or Redetermination form.

Note: If your income goes down, report it immediately even if you are a Mid-Point Reporter (don't wait for the MPR or Redetermination form), because your benefits might go up. However, if your earned income goes up then your benefits might go down, and you are not required to report the increase until you file the MPR or Redetermination forms.

If you are not sure about your reporting status, contact your local DHS Family Community Resource Center.

Not following your Responsibility and Services Plan (RSP)

If you get Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits, you and a caseworker create a Responsibility and Services Plan (RSP) listing everything you need to get a job and become more financially stable. If you are considered able to work, your RSP includes work-related activities and supports. If someone you care for has a disability, your RSP might include activities like applying for disability benefits or getting medical care. You must sign your RSP. If you do not do the work activities and other steps listed in your plan, your monthly TANF benefits may go down. Learn more about RSPs.

Not paying attention to your 60-month 'time clock'

You can get up to 60 months (five years) of TANF cash benefits, as long as you continue to qualify. Sometimes called "the time clock," the 60 months is a lifetime limit for adults (18 and older). For example, if you are 18 or older and 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 left. However, a month does not count toward the 60-month limit if you work a minimum number of hours each week, attend college full-time, have a child with a disability, or meet any of the other exceptions to the 60-month limit. (The time clock does not apply to dependent children in a TANF family unit.) Learn more about the TANF time clock.

Listening to misinformation

It can be difficult to get accurate and complete information about public benefits programs. Family, friends, or some social workers and advocates may have limited knowledge of available options. They may also be unaware of how changes in income or employment can affect whether you qualify for specific programs. To be sure the information you get is accurate and complete, contact your DHS Family Community Resource Center.

Learn more