Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Who Can Get TANF Benefits


To help families who can't pay for their basic needs like food, clothing, and rent, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) provides:

  1. Cash benefits, and
  2. Referrals to other benefits and programs that help families become more financially stable.

A family is defined as one or two parents (or other caretaker relatives) living with their child or children under 18. A family can include biological kids, step kids, adopted kids, and children of relatives.

To be eligible for TANF (sometimes called Cash Assistance), 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 your 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.

You cannot get TANF if you:

  • Get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits (there may be an exception if your SSI or SSDI is unusually low)
  • Are an undocumented immigrant
  • Are on strike
  • Are a fugitive felon, or in violation of your probation or parole
  • Refuse to work
  • Do not cooperate with efforts to get child support payments for your children
  • Do not provide all the information needed to prove you are eligible for TANF
  • Have used up your five years (60 months) of TANF benefits

Note: Even if you can't get TANF for any of these reasons, 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.

How TANF Counts Your Family

Officially, TANF calls a family getting benefits 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.

After the state decides who counts as part of your family unit for TANF, it looks at your income.

How TANF Counts Your Family's Income

Income is money you get from work, benefits, or other sources. There’s a limit to how much income you can have and still qualify for TANF, based on the size of your family unit. Not all income is included, and remember that they may not count every family member.

To see if you can get benefits, 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 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 the state is deciding if you are eligible for TANF.

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

For example, a family of two 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.


Marie and Frank have a daughter, age eight. Frank has a disability, and gets SSI benefits of $943 a month, so he is not eligible for TANF and his income doesn't count. Marie and her daughter are considered a family unit of two.

Marie works part-time and earns $700 a month. The IED for a family unit of two is $277. The family has no other income, earned or unearned, so the total income for their family unit of two is $700 minus $277, or $423. That is less than the standard monthly TANF payment of $575 for a family unit of two, so they qualify for TANF.

After TANF decides that you are eligible for benefits, they look at your countable income again to decide how much you get in benefits each month.

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