Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)


Jason and Isabel's Story

Jason’s family was having a difficult time making ends meet. Up until a month ago, he was able to support his wife Isabel and their young daughter through his job as a cashier at a local grocery store. Then the grocery store laid some people off. Jason lost his job, but he didn't qualify for unemployment benefits.

Jason and Isabel didn’t have much money in savings. They realized that they were going to have trouble paying for rent, food, and utilities. They decided to apply for help until they could get back on their feet. Jason has a disability. He had applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) at his local Social Security office in the past, and had been told that his disability didn’t meet their definition of disability. So he knew he didn’t qualify to get SSI benefits.

So Jason went online to ABE.Illinois.gov and applied for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). As part of the online application process, he was asked if he would also like to apply for SNAP and Medicaid, and he clicked "yes" for both.

In a few days he got a phone call to set up an appointment for Isabel and Jason to meet with Maria, a caseworker, and instructions about the documents they needed to have with them.

Maria asked them a series of questions about their family, living situation, and work history, and reviewed their valid identification, proof of the address where they lived, and other required documents.

"I see you applied for TANF, SNAP, and Medicaid, so if you qualify you'll get all three," Maria told them.

Several weeks later, Jason and his family got a letter saying they were approved for all three programs. Since they didn’t have any income, they got the maximum TANF benefit for a family with two caretakers (parents) and one child, $725 a month.

Next, Jason and Isabel met with another caseworker, Carol, to come up with Responsibility and Services Plans (RSPs) designed to get them jobs.

Isabel needed just a few more classes to complete her training as an x-ray technician, but had put those plans on hold when they had their child. Her RSP included finishing those credits, and turning in her grades to TANF to show that she successfully finished the training. Carol explained that after Isabel completed her training, the next step would be to create a new RSP listing the steps for Isabel's job search.

Jason’s RSP was a little different because of his disability. He thought that maybe he could work from home doing customer service over the phone. His RSP included a one-week customer service training program and then searching for a job. It also included a referral to Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) for support services, and said that Jason would attend any medical appointments needed to care for his disability.

Jason and Isabel had two concerns about working.

“Ok, so I’d love to go back to school,” Isabel said, “but what about my little girl? I can’t afford to pay someone to watch her.”

“I'll give you a referral to the Illinois Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP)," Carol told them. "They can help you pay for child care."

“Great!” said Isabel. “That solves that problem.”

“But what happens when one of us starts working?" Jason asked. "Won’t our benefits go down? Won’t we be even poorer then?”

“Not necessarily,” Carol reassured them. “It depends on many factors. But no matter how much money you make, TANF only counts 25%. That's just $1 out of every $4 that you earn. So you’ll still be eligible for benefits until you get back on track. Plus you’ll have even more money than just being on TANF alone.”

Jason and Isabel left the meeting with the case worker feeling like things were looking up. With a little help, they’d be back on their feet soon enough.

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