Skip to main content
Advancing justice and opportunity
Menu ≡

Cash Assistance: TANF

Temporary Assistance For Needy Families


How can TANF help me?

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program may help you become self-supportive while receiving monthly cash benefits to meet your everyday needs such as rent, utilities, clothes, transportation, or additional expenses. Sometimes you may not be eligible to receive TANF for yourself, but a child or children in your household may. The TANF program is administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS).

Am I eligible for TANF?

To be eligible, you must meet both types of eligibility— categorical and financial.

You are categorically eligible for TANF if you are:

  • The parent or relative of a child under 19 years in your care. If the child is 18 the child must be a full-time high school student.
  • A pregnant woman.

To be financially eligible, you must have:

  • A monthly income (at the time of application) of less than $630 for a family of two, $795 for a family of three, or $960 for a family of four (or less if not all the income is from employment). Educational loans, grants, scholarships, fellowships, Social Security educational benefits, veteran’s educational benefits, and federal and state work-study income are not included when determining your financial eligibility.
  • IDHS will disregard the value of all assets of a family, such as money in a savings account or the fair market value of a car.

What TANF benefits are available to me?

TANF may provide you with:

  • A monthly cash benefit. In Cook County a family of two may receive up to $318 a month; a family of three may receive up to $432 a month; and a family of four may receive up to $474 a month. The monthly amounts are less in other parts of Illinois.
  • Help on problems related to substance abuse, mental health, and domestic or sexual violence, including referrals and other supportive services.
  • Supportive services such as child care and transportation if you are assigned to an activity such as employment or school.

TANF cash benefits are distributed to you on a LINK card that works like a debit card. If you are eligible for both TANF and SNAP, you will receive one card to access both benefits.

What are the work requirements?

The TANF program requires most adult recipients to be employed or participate in certain work- related activities, which you will be assigned for a certain number of hours per week in order to receive benefits. IDHS agency workers will emphasize getting a job but education and training programs can be approved.

Most education and training programs can count toward the work activity requirement. If you are already enrolled, tell your case worker that you are in school or a training program and want school or your training program to count as your required activity. This is an occasion where you will have to be a good advocate for yourself.

The total number of hours needed to fulfill your work activity requirement depends on your family composition:

  • For single-parent families and two-parent families where one parent is exempt from engaging in the work activity requirement the total number of hours required is 30 hours per week. IDHS calls these “one work-eligible cases.”
  • For single-parent families with a child under six in the home, the work activity requirement is 20 hours per week. IDHS calls these “one work-eligible cases”.
  • For two-parent families, the work activity requirement is 35 hours per week. IDHS calls these “two work-eligible cases”. The required hours may be satisfied by one or both parents.

What are TANF education and training activities?

There are a number of ways to meet your work activity requirement, including employment, community service, job search, etc. There are also a variety of education and training activities that can contribute toward your overall work activity requirement. Activities are categorized as either Core or Non-Core activities. For example, employment is a Core activity, but so is vocational training. Core activities are those that most quickly lead to self-supporting employment. The first 20 hours of work activity must be in Core activities. Non-Core activities are those that increase your employability without directly leading to employment. After the Core requirement is met, the remaining required hours may be in Core or Non-Core activities.

For example: a single mother with one child who is over six years old will have a 20 hour per week Core activity requirement and a 30 hour per week overall work activity requirement. Once approved for her 20 hour per week Core activity requirement, she would need to add 10 more hours of either Core or Non-Core activity to meet her 30 hour per week work activity requirement.

Core Education and Training Activities

  • High School/ GED Program for Teen Parents. This is reserved for parents 19 years old or younger who have not yet completed secondary school or received their GED.
  • Associate and Bachelor Degree Programs. An associate’s or bachelor’s degree program that will qualify you for a specific job or field of work may satisfy the work activity requirement. If you are enrolled full-time, you do not need to engage in any other TANF work activities during the first semester. After the first semester, as long as your grade point average (GPA) is at least 2.5 out of 4.0 and you are enrolled full time, you do not need to engage in any other work activities. If you attend college less than full time, your grades fall below a 2.5 GPA, or you are in a two work-eligible case, your education hours will be counted as a Non-Core work activity and you will be required to participate in one or more other work activities at least 20 hours per week.
  • Vocational Training. This is a program that results in the receipt of a Certificate of Achievement or Completion, and/or prepares you to obtain a professional license. If the training results in an Associate or Bachelor’s degree, then those rules apply. The vocational training program must prepare you for a specific type of work, such as nursing or in manufacturing. If you are enrolled in vocational training you do not need to engage in any other work activities during the first 12 months of participation. It is possible for you to be approved to attend part time if it is the most practical option for your family situation. After 12 months you may have an additional work activity requirement to fulfill; depending on your family composition your vocational training hours will be approved to fulfill 10 hours of your Core requirement for a one-work eligible family or 15 hours for a two-work eligible family.

Non-Core Education and Training Activities

  • Job Skills Training. This is training that helps you develop your ability to obtain employment or to adapt to the changing demands of the workplace. This will be counted as Non-Core activity and you will be required to fulfill at least 20 Core activity hours through work or another form of education and training.
  • Education Directly Related to Employment. This includes Adult Basic Education, General Educational Development (GED) Certificate, or English as a Second Language (ESL). For adults over 20 years old, this activity will be counted as a Non-Core activity and you will be required to fulfill at least 20 Core activity hours through work or another form of education and training. This may only be authorized for up to 24 months.

Are there exemptions from TANF work activity requirements?

Yes, in certain cases. Some people with “good cause” are exempt from the work activity requirement. In some cases you may be required to do other self-sufficiency activities, such as parenting classes or getting mental health care. You are exempt if:

  • You are in the last six weeks of your pregnancy
  • You are in the first 12 weeks after childbirth
  • You are caring for a child under one year of age
  • You are seeking TANF benefits for children only (for example, if you are a relative other than the parent or you are an undocumented immigrant)
  • You (or a household member) are a victim of domestic or sexual violence (including stalking) and you need to focus on getting out of an abusive situation, or your household would be unfairly penalized or subjected to further violence by your being a victim of domestic or sexual violence (this is called the Family Violence Exclusion)
  • You have serious health problems which prevent you from working
  • You are responsible for the care of a minor child or spouse who has severe physical or mental health problems and you must provide in-home care as your work activity
  • You need supportive services, such as child care or transportation assistance, for your work or training activity, but IDHS does not make them available to you
  • You are homeless and must spend your time finding a home

Note: If you are a domestic or sexual violence survivor and qualify for the Family Violence Exclusion, you may be excused from any TANF program requirement, including the work activity requirement. If you choose to participate in education or training activities, this should mean not needing to meet all the requirements for attendance. This also could be attending school or training part time without any other activity required, not meeting the required GPA, etc.

↑ Go up to the top.