Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Understanding Your Benefits

TANF Cash Benefits

If you qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), you’ll get a monthly cash benefit for up to 60 months (five years), as long as you meet the requirements of your Responsibility and Services Plan (RSP) and you continue to qualify (learn more about the redetermination process that TANF uses to check that you are still eligible).

The TANF 'Time Clock'

You can only get TANF benefits as an adult (18 and older) for a total of 60 months (five years) in your lifetime. Any month that you get TANF benefits counts toward this lifetime limit, which is sometimes called the "time clock." If you stop getting benefits and then start getting again, the count picks up where it left off. This means that if you get benefits for 12 months, go off TANF for awhile, and then get back on later, you only have 48 months of cash benefits left.

However, a month might not count toward the 60-month limit if you:

  • Work at least 30 hours per week, or 35 hours for a two-parent family
  • Attend college full-time in a degree program with at least a 2.5 grade point average
  • Have a child under 21 who has a disability and is approved for a Home & Community-based Care Program waiver
  • Are unable to work at least 30 hours per week because of a medical condition
  • Are caring for a related child under 18 (or spouse) because of their medical condition, or
  • Meet any of the other exceptions to the 60-month limit.

Learn more about the 60-month TANF limit.

Your Benefit Amount

If you qualify for TANF (sometimes called Cash Assistance), the amount you get each month depends on the size of your family unit (see "Who Can Get TANF?"), and what type of income you have. The more income you have, the lower your TANF benefit will be. However, not all of your income is counted.

To calculate the amount of your monthly benefit, TANF looks at your income differently than when it decided you are eligible for benefits. To decide how much you get each month, TANF:

  1. Subtracts 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. Adds 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. Figures 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. Subtracts 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.


Kaylee is a single mother of two. She gets $200 per month in unearned income. All of her income is countable, so that means her family gets:

$725 maximum benefit – $200 countable income = $525 per month in TANF benefits

Kaylee's total monthly income is:

$200 (her unearned income) + $525 (TANF benefits) = $725

Jocelyn is also a single mother of two. She has a part-time job where she makes $500 per month. Unlike Kaylee, Jocelyn has no unearned income. TANF ignores 75% of what Jocelyn earns, and only counts 25%. This means Jocelyn's countable income is:

$500 (her earned income) x 25% = $125

With $125 in countable income, her family gets:

$725 maximum benefit – $125 in countable income = $600 per month in TANF benefits

This means that Jocelyn's total income is:

$500 (from her job) + $600 (TANF benefits) = $1,100

Thanks to working, Jocelyn has more total income than Kaylee does, and also gets more in TANF benefits.

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.

Getting Your TANF Benefits

After your eligibility interview, you are mailed a notice telling you if you can get benefits and how much you’ll get. Your TANF monthly payments are sent to you through your Illinois Link Card, a plastic card that looks and works like a debit card.

When you get monthly TANF benefits, you must work with your case manager to create a Responsibility and Services Plan (RSP), and follow the steps in your plan to become more financially stable. Learn more about RSPs, and working with TANF.

Learn more