Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

The Basics

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, it 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 a federal program that can have different names (and different rules) in different states. Like the federal program, in Illinois it's called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (it also can be called Cash Assistance). To get TANF benefits in Illinois, you must be an Illinois resident and your family must have no, or low, income.

If you get TANF cash benefits and are considered "work eligible," you and your caseworker must create your Responsibility and Services Plan (RSP). Your RSP lists everything you agree to do while getting TANF benefits, and everything the state agrees to do to help you. If you or someone you care for has a disability, the RSP could include activities like applying for disability benefits or getting medical care. Learn more about your RSP in the section on Work, Benefits, and You.

This article explains who can get TANF, how to apply, and has details about its benefits. We'll begin by describing how to Apply for Benefits.

TANF and other programs

If you get TANF benefits, you also qualify for Medicaid and might be able to get SNAP (formerly Food Stamps). When you apply for TANF, be sure to say on your application that you also want to be considered for other programs.

Depending on your age, health, and work history, if you have a disability you might also be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). However, in most cases you cannot get SSI or SSDI and TANF at the same time (there may be an exception if your SSI or SSDI is unusually low). Ask your caseworker about which program you might qualify for, and the pros and cons of each. 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, so it can still be a good idea to apply for TANF.

Get Expert Help

If you have questions about your benefits and need to talk to someone, you can:

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