SPDP

  State Policy Documentation Project

 

 


Findings in Brief:  TANF Applications

Filing and Processing Applications

This section provides information on the process that families must go through to apply for and enroll in the state’s cash assistance program, as well as the extent to which the state links the application process for Medicaid and Food Stamps or other benefits to the application process for cash assistance. Note that this section does not address provisions specific to re-application after full-family sanction; re-application is addressed in the Sanction Provisions section.

The TANF statute no longer requires states to agree to accept all applications for cash assistance, nor to process applications within a specified time period. It allows states to require families to meet specified conditions before they can have their TANF applications processed or even before they can submit applications.

Policies in all 50 states and DC provide that all persons have a right to file an application. All states have policies requiring prompt processing of applications, generally within 30 or 45 days from the date the application is submitted. Some 49 states use joint applications for cash assistance and Food Stamps, and 48 states use joint applications for cash assistance and Medicaid. A minority of states uses joint applications for cash assistance and other benefits such as child care, Emergency Assistance, General Assistance, or state medical assistance.

Pre-Application Requirements

This section provides information on any requirements that a family seeking cash assistance must meet before it can even submit an application for TANF-funded assistance. Three states have formal requirements that must be met before filing an application for assistance. The requirements include signing a Personal Responsibility Contract, participating in an assessment, conducting a job search, and agreeing to cooperate with child support enforcement requirements. One of the three states exempts individuals who meet work requirement exemption criteria from pre-application requirements; in the other two states the requirements are imposed on all applicants.

Pending Application Requirements

This section addresses "pending" application requirements, requirements that a family must meet while its application for TANF-funded assistance is being processed. If the family does not meet pending application requirements, the state stops processing the application and does not determine or denies the family’s eligibility for cash assistance. Note that requirements that do not affect the determination of eligibility, but result in a sanction, are not included here. These requirements are covered in the Sanction Provisions section.

Some 32 states impose requirements that must be met while an application for assistance is pending. The requirements include conducting a job search, cooperating with child support enforcement requirements, participating in an assessment, signing a Personal Responsibility Contract, attending orientation, and participating in work activities. In 15 of the 32 states, some applicants are exempt from pending application requirements.

Personal Responsibility Contracts and Employability Plans

Information on "personal responsibility contracts" and "employability plans" are covered in two separate sections. Some states require individuals to sign a contract limited to work-related activities or requirements; these are referred to here as "employability plans." The section addressing "personal responsibility contracts" covers any contracts other than separate employability plans. Personal responsibility contracts may include a range of behavioral requirements such as requiring immunizations of the child(ren) and also may include work-related requirements.

All states require individuals to sign either a personal responsibility contract or an employability plan; some 17 states require both. Of the 35 states that require a personal responsibility contract, two states require applicants to sign before filing an application, 22 require applicants to sign when they apply or while application is pending, 10 require signing after eligibility is determined, and in one state the point at which signing is required varies depending on when the client attends an orientation session. Obligations included in personal responsibility contracts include participation in work activities, child and/or minor parent school attendance, cooperation with child support enforcement requirements, child immunization or preventive health measures, participation in life skills or parenting training, substance abuse provisions, and agreement to achieve self-sufficiency within a set time period. In 27 of the 35 states, personal responsibility contracts include a state or county agreement to provide services to the individual.

There are no exemptions from the requirement to sign a personal responsibility contract in 19 of the 35 states. In the other 16 states, exemption criteria include those exempt from work requirements, caring for a young child, and disabled caretakers. The sanction for not signing a personal responsibility contract is the same as the sanction for failing to comply with work requirements in 16 states. Some 14 states deny benefits to individuals who do not sign a contract. Four more states impose a partial benefit sanction, and one state does not impose a sanction for failing to sign a personal responsibility contract.

Of the 33 states that require an employability plan, no state requires applicants to sign before filing an application, five require applicants to sign while the application is pending, 18 require signing after eligibility is determined, and in 10 states the point at which signing is required varies. One state did not provide this information. In 23 of the 33 states, employability plans include a state or county agreement to provide services to the individual.

There are no exemptions from the requirement to sign an employability plan in three of the 33 states. In the other 30 states, exemption criteria include those exempt from work requirements, those caring for a young child, disabled caretakers, and those working in unsubsidized employment for some minimum number of hours per week. The sanction for not signing an employability plan is the same as the sanction for failing to comply with work requirements in 20 states. Six states deny benefits to individuals who do not sign a contract, and one state gives counties discretion to determine the sanction amount. Six  states do not impose a sanction for failing to sign an employability plan.

 

 Formal Cash Diversion Programs 

This section provides information on the rules and procedures for states’ formal diversion programs under which families receive an up-front, lump sum payment in lieu of ongoing cash assistance payments. This information is separate from the policies reported above in the sections on pre-application and pending application requirements that are eligibility requirements and which may result in "informal diversion."

Some 23 states operate "formal" diversion programs under which families receive an up-front, lump-sum payment in lieu of ongoing cash assistance payments. For example, a state may give a family three months' worth of cash assistance in a single payment on the condition that the family will be ineligible for a prescribed period of time if the payment is accepted. Alternatively, a state may agree to make a payment on a case-by-case basis to address emergency needs, such as a car repair bill. Some twelve states limit how many times, or how frequently, a family can receive a formal diversion payment, and one state leaves this decision to county discretion. In 15 states, recipients of diversion payments are ineligible for ongoing cash assistance for some time period, and two states permit counties to determine this policy. Of the fifteen states, eight provide exceptions to the period of ineligibility for ongoing cash assistance. Eight states have a policy for recouping the diversion payment if a family begins receiving cash assistance within the period of ineligibility.

In eight of the 23 states, a diversion payment counts toward the cash assistance time limit. In only four of the 23, child support rights of families receiving diversion payments are assigned to the state.

 

Emergency Assistance

States no longer receive funding specifically for an emergency assistance (EA) program or the AFDC Special Needs program, though they generally can use their TANF block grant dollars or state maintenance-of-effort dollars to provide the kinds of benefits that were formerly provided through EA or Special Needs programs. Many states used EA funds to provide short-term housing assistance to families.

34 states use TANF and/or MOE funds to provide "emergency assistance" or "crisis assistance" for families in situations that meet the state's emergency criteria.  Of these, 31 states provide emergency assistance to families receiving TANF cash assistance, 28 states provide emergency assistance to families eligible for but not receiving TANF, and 25 states provide emergency assistance to families that are not eligible for TANF assistance.

The types of emergency assistance provided varies among states, and may include eviction prevention, short-term rental assistance, assistance to prevent utility shut-off, emergency housing, and temporary shelter for homeless families.

 


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This page last updated September 02, 2023

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