SPDP

  State Policy Documentation Project

 

 


Summary of Policy Issues

Categorical Eligibility for TANF Cash Assistance

The term categorical eligibility refers to the non-financial and non-behavioral rules of eligibility that determine whether a family may qualify to receive assistance under a state’s TANF program.

Assistance Unit

The term assistance unit is used to describe the group of individuals who will be treated as a single unit for the purposes of determining eligibility for and the amount of cash assistance available to the unit. The assistance unit may also be referred to as an assistance group or filing unit. Under AFDC there was a set of federal requirements governing who must or may be in the assistance unit. Under TANF, the federal law no longer refers to "assistance units" although a number of states continue to do so. Instead, federal rules now refer to an "eligible family."

Dependent Child

A state may not use federal TANF funds to provide assistance to a family unless it includes a minor child or a pregnant individual. In order to be countable toward the state’s maintenance of effort (MOE) requirements, state (or local) funds must be spent on families that include a child or a pregnant woman, and families must meet the financial eligibility criteria established in the state’s TANF Plan.

Under TANF, a minor child is defined as an individual under age 18, or an 18-year-old individual who is a full-time student in secondary school or in an equivalent level of vocational or technical training. States are free to adopt more restrictive definitions for purposes of a TANF-funded cash assistance program. For MOE purposes, states may define a child in a manner different from the TANF minor child definition. They may, therefore, use either a more limited or more expansive definition than provided for in TANF.

Of the 50 states and DC, all but two include any child under age 18 in the definition of a minor child. Forty-five states include a full-time student age 18 who is expected to graduate by age 19; and 15 of the 45 include any 18-year-old full-time student in the definition of a minor child.

Please note that family cap policies are described in the Reproductive Health and Teens section, not here.

Assistance Unit Rules Regarding Children: Siblings

Under AFDC, all dependent children (other than those receiving SSI, Foster Care or adoption assistance) who lived together and were full or half-siblings were required to be included in the assistance unit sometimes referred to as "sibling deeming."

Under TANF, states are free to define policy as they wish in this area. Of the 50 states and DC, 49 allow children who are SSI recipients to be excluded from the assistance unit, 36 allow those receiving Foster Care to be excluded, 24 allow children receiving adoption assistance to be excluded, and one state does not allow any full- or half-sibling dependent children to be excluded from the assistance unit.

Assistance Unit Rules Regarding Children: Non-Siblings

Under AFDC, when one adult cared for children who were not full- or half-siblings, states could require that all of those children be included in the same assistance unit, (e.g., when an individual cared for his/her own child and a niece or nephew) rather than allowing the children who were not full- or half-siblings to receive assistance as separate units.

Similarly, under TANF states are free to define policy as they wish in this area. Twenty-five states require that non-sibling children with a caretaker in common be included together in the same assistance unit. Twenty states allow non-siblings with a caretaker in common to receive benefits as a separate assistance unit, five states have policies that vary based on other family circumstances, and in one state, non-parents are not allowed to act as a caretaker grantee so this issue does not arise.

Benefits for a Child Who Is Temporarily Absent from the Family Home

States may use federal TANF funds to continue assistance for a child while the child is temporarily absent from the parent’s (or caretaker relative’s) home for a period of up to 180 days. A state may establish a longer period and provide assistance with state MOE funds after 180 days. Five states do not limit the duration of a child’s temporary absence from the home. Of the remaining 46 states, eight allow a temporary absence of up to 180 days (or six months), and the rest set shorter limits on a child’s temporary absence. Of the 46 states that limit the duration of a temporary absence, 34 have exceptions allowing for a longer absence under limited circumstances.

Non-Parent Caretakers

Under AFDC, in order for a family to qualify, a child had to live with a parent or other caretaker relative, and the relatives who might qualify had to be within a specified degree of kinship to the child.

Federal TANF and state MOE funds can only be used to provide assistance to a family that includes a pregnant woman or a child who is being cared for by a parent or relative, however, the law does not specify any required degree of kinship. In 40 states, an individual must be related to a child in order to qualify as a non-parent caretaker. In 11 states, a legal guardian, whether or not related to a child, can qualify as a non-parent caretaker. In one state, any adult can potentially qualify as a non-parent caretaker. In states that provide assistance in situations when the caretaker is not a relative, effective on October 1, 1999, it appears that federal TANF funds may not be used, and that state funds used for such purposes would not be countable toward the MOE requirement.

States may require non-parent caretakers to be included in the assistance unit with the child, prohibit the non-parent caretaker from being included in the assistance unit, or give the non-parent caretaker the option of being included. Three states require non-parent caretakers to be included in the assistance unit, one state prohibits non-parent caretakers from being included, one state only extends eligibility to families in which the caretaker is a parent, and the other 46 states give non-parent caretakers the option of being included in the assistance unit.

Pregnant Women

Under AFDC, states had the option of covering a pregnant woman who was not already caring for a child, if she was otherwise eligible, beginning in the sixth month of her pregnancy.

States have the option of considering a pregnant woman eligible to receive assistance and can specify any point in time during the pregnancy at which eligibility will commence. In 32 states, pregnant women not caring for a child can be eligible for TANF cash assistance. In eight states, eligibility begins as early as the first month of pregnancy; in two states it begins between the second and fifth months; and in 22 states, eligibility begins between the sixth and ninth months of pregnancy.

Two-Parent Families

Under AFDC, two-parent families were only eligible if one parent was "incapacitated" or if the parent designated as the "principal earner" was considered to be "unemployed," which mean that he or she met certain work history requirements and was not employed for 100 or more hours per month while applying for or receiving benefits.

Under TANF, there are no specific provisions which mandate or limit the inclusion of two-parent families in a state’s TANF program. All 50 states and DC extend TANF eligibility to some two-parent families. In 33 states, two-parent family eligibility for TANF cash assistance is based solely on financial circumstances, and is not limited to families in which a parent is incapacitated or "unemployed." In 17 states, one parent must meet the state’s definition of either "incapacitated" or "unemployed" in order for a two-parent family to be eligible. In one state, one parent in a two-parent family must be incapacitated in order for the family to be eligible. Of the 17 states applying an unemployment test to two-parent families, one parent must meet a work history test in 14 states, and the 100-hour rule applies to applicant families in 10 states and recipient families in eight states.

Rules Applicable to the Parents of Minor Parents

Under AFDC, the grandparent of a child of a minor parent was required to be in the same assistance unit with the minor parent and her child if the grandparent was an AFDC applicant or recipient.

Under TANF, states are free to establish any policies they wish with regard to households that include the parent of a minor parent and the minor parent’s child. Some 42 states still require grandparents seeking or receiving assistance to be included in the same assistance unit with a minor parent and child; nine states do not.

Treatment of Other Adults in the Household

Under AFDC, the only basis on which an adult who was not a parent (or a stepparent in a state with a law of general applicability specifying that stepparents are legally responsible for their stepchildren) or non-parent caretaker relative could be included in a family’s assistance unit was if an individual was determined to be essential to the family’s well-being. States were not allowed to determine that a household member was an essential person unless the family agreed.

Under TANF, assistance can be provided to a family that includes a child, but the term "family" is not defined. States have broad flexibility in determining which, if any, other adults who reside with the parent or caretaker relative may or must be included in the assistance unit. Twenty-one states require some adults who are not parents or caretakers, such as stepparents who are not legally responsible for a stepchild, to be included in the assistance unit. Twenty states allow some adults who are not parents or caretakers, such as essential persons and caretakers’ spouses, to be included in the assistance unit at family option.


 

Send e-mail to SPDP: [email protected]
This page last updated September 02, 2023

clasp-c.gif (2176 bytes)                       CBLOGO1.gif (7260 bytes)