State Policy Documentation Project



Findings in Brief:  Time Limits


This section addresses time limits that terminate or reduce assistance to a family based receipt of assistance for a period of time. Policies under which receipt of assistance for a certain period of time trigger work requirements are not considered time limits on receipt of assistance here.

The federal TANF Time Limit

Federal law prohibits states from using federal TANF funds to provide assistance to a family with an adult who has received assistance for 60 months. This is a permanent or lifetime bar on the use of federal TANF funds to provide assistance to a family except that federal TANF funds can be used to provide assistance beyond 60 months for up to 20 percent of the average monthly caseload in the state TANF program. States are free to use state funds to provide assistance to families in excess of the 20 percent limit. In addition, at any time prior to their reaching the 60-month time limit, a state can provide assistance to a family with all state funds and thereby stop the federal time limit clock, which is tied to the use of federal TANF funds. Thus, although states must comply with the 60-month TANF time limit on the use of federal TANF funds, the flexibility available in the use of state funds allows each state to structure time limit policies including exemptions and extensions in a variety of ways, or not to impose a state time limit at all.

In addition, a state may have received a waiver under the former AFDC program that authorized it to implement a time limit on cash assistance. To the extent to which the TANF time limit is inconsistent with the state’s waiver time limit, the state may be allowed to follow its waiver policy rather than the TANF policy until the expiration of the waiver. States with waivers were required to file a certification with HHS by October 1, 2023 if they wished to follow a policy under a state waiver that is inconsistent with TANF requirements. At least a dozen states filed certifications which claim that the state will follow a waiver policy that is inconsistent with the PRWORA TANF time limit provisions. The claimed inconsistencies typically involve the exemption or extension policies under a state’s waiver.

State Time Limits

State time limit policies differ in the period of time for which they terminate or reduce assistance. This report includes separate information lifetime time limits and fixed period time limits.

Lifetime time limits terminate or reduce assistance permanently.

Fixed-period time limits terminate or reduce assistance for a fixed period of time after which regular assistance can again be provided. For example, some states provide that a family may not receive assistance for more than 24 months in a 60 month period, or that after receiving benefits for 24 months, the family will be ineligible for the next 36 months.

Some states either have a fixed period or a lifetime time limit. Other states have both fixed period and lifetime time limits. For example, a state might provide that a family cannot receive assistance for more than 24 months in a 60 month period, and for no more than 60 months over the parent’s lifetime.

State policies differ as to whether benefits to the family are terminated or reduced when the time limit is reached. Seven states impose the time limit only on the adult(s) in the family and continue benefits to the children in a reduced amount when the time limit is reached. These states are: Arizona, California, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island and Texas. (Of these, Texas reduces benefits when the fixed period time limit is reached and terminates all benefits to the family when the 60-month lifetime limit is reached.)

Time limit policies differ among states in the length of time a family can receive assistance before the time limit is reached. A total of 20 states impose time limits shorter than 60 months that reduce or terminate assistance. A total of 36 states impose 60-month time limits. (As noted above, some states impose both a shorter fixed period time limit and a 60-month lifetime limit.) Two states — Florida and Texas — have different time limits for different groups of families based on the adult’s level of education or work experience.

Families have already begun to reach time limits in 18 states as of June 2000. By January 2001, families will begin to reach the time limit in three additional states (Arkansas, Ohio and Georgia). In 28 states, families will not begin to reach time limits until October 2001 or thereafter. In some states, few or no families have lost benefits due to reaching the time limit, largely because of the state’s exemption or extension policies. For example, in Oregon, no families have been terminated due to time limits because the time clock stops for families that are participating in work activities; families that are not participating in work are terminated under the state’s full-family sanction policies, so they never reach the time limit. In other states, thousands — and, in Connecticut, tens of thousands — of families have lost benefits due to the time limit.

Time Limit Exemptions and Extensions

State time limit policies often define groups of families that are not subject to the time limit, and provide for continuation of assistance under certain circumstances after a family reaches the time limit. While usage of the terms "exemption," "exception," and "extension" varies from state to state, as used here:

  •  an exemption is a circumstance under which a month of assistance does not count in determining whether the family has reached the time limit (the "clock stops");
  •  an extension is a circumstance under which aid may be continued even though the family has reached its time limit.


Under the federal welfare law, the TANF clock does not run under certain circumstances and states must disregard such months for purposes of the 60-month TANF time limit. States must disregard: 1) months when no adult in the family is receiving assistance (child only cases); 2) months when a family that includes an adult receives assistance while living on an Indian reservation or in an Alaskan Native village with more than 50 percent unemployment; and 3) months when a pregnant minor or minor parent received assistance when he or she is not the head-of-household or married to the head of household. (With respect to minor parents, we sought to collect state exemption and extension policies affecting minor parents that were the head-of-household. It appeared from the information collected, however, that some state responses were not limited to head-of-household situations. Because we cannot be confident of the consistency of the data, we have decided not to report that information here.)

Because TANF clocks should never run under these three circumstances described above, they are not separately reported as exemptions here. A state in which these are the only circumstances under which the time clock does not run are labeled a state with "No Exemptions" in policy comparison charts.

Eighteen states have no time limit exemption policies. The rest of the states have exemption policies that set forth circumstances under which a month will not count against a state-defined time limit even though an adult is receiving assistance as part of the family. This report lists the ten most common types of time limit exemptions that states recognize and provides limited additional information about other exemptions.

The most frequent reasons for time limit exemptions are that a parent or caretaker is disabled (26 states) or is caring for a disabled household member (22 states). States with disability exemptions may have differing policies setting the standard for the duration or the severity of disability needed to qualify for the exemption. Some states with exemptions for caretaking of a disabled household member may also set additional conditions, such as requiring that the caretaking responsibilities preclude participation in work activities.

Other time limit exemptions reported here include policies that stop the clock when an adult is caring for a young child (13 states — information on the age of the child and other limitations is provided); when an adult is pregnant (10 states); when a parent or caretaker is elderly (17 states — information on the required age is provided); for victims domestic violence (18 states); when child care is unavailable (8 states); when other services that have been specified in an employment plan are unavailable (5 states); when the caretaker is not the parent (6 states); and when an adult is employed (7 states — in some of these states the person must be working a minimum number of hours or must be in subsidized employment).


Under TANF, states may provide assistance with federal TANF funds to a family that includes an adult that has received TANF-funded assistance for 60 months based on hardship or domestic violence, provided that such families do not make up more than 20 percent of the state’s caseload. (The proposed TANF regulations would, in effect, exclude families that have a good cause domestic violence waiver when calculating the 20 percent.) States are free to use segregated state funds to provide assistance to families that are past the 60-month time limit in excess of the 20 percent limit.

While some states — particularly those in which families are already reaching time limits — have adopted detailed extension policies, other states — particularly those that have adopted the TANF 60-month limit — have not yet developed policies governing the specific circumstances under which extensions will be granted. A number of states have adopted a general policy that extensions will be available for up to 20 percent of the caseload on the basis of hardship or domestic violence without further elaboration. Five states have policies that provide no extensions and three states do not yet have policies on extensions. As families begin to approach time limits in additional states in late 2001 and 2002, it is expected that states will develop policies or additional detail in their policies governing extensions.

This report lists the nine most common reasons for time limit extensions and also provides limited additional information about other bases for extensions. The most frequent reasons for time limit extensions are domestic violence (24 states) or circumstances in which the family has made a good faith effort but is still unemployed or underemployed (20 states). Other common extension bases are that a parent or caretaker is disabled (18 states) or is caring for a disabled household member (14 states); hardship (7 states); to allow completion of education or training (7 states); residing in areas of high unemployment (7 states); and a general provision following the language of the federal welfare law about hardship or domestic violence (13 states).

In addition, nearly half the states provide some additional bases for extensions. Brief descriptions of "other" policies are provided in the state policy comparison charts. These include, for example, policies in Utah and Florida under which current or recent employment can be the basis of "earning" an extension.

Additional Information on State Time Limit Policies

Many states have not developed detailed procedures to follow when time limits are reached or policies affecting families that lose benefits due to time limits. While the State Policy Documentation Project sought such information, a commonly received answer was that no policy had been formulated yet. There are certain issues, however, on which some states — particularly early time limit states under waivers — did provide information. This information is not included in the 50-state comparison charts in this report but it is summarized below.

Procedures required when terminating benefits due to time limits


Nine states have policies that require review by a supervisor or a team of staff before a family’s assistance is terminated due to reaching a time limit. They are Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina and Utah. All but two of these are states in which families are already reaching time limits. Families are reaching time limits now in another ten states in which such supervisory or team reviews are not required. In some of these states there are other types of reviews by a case manager or independent reviewer. Two states — South Carolina and Tennessee — have policies that require a home visit after a family has lost TANF benefits due to reaching a time limit.


Child no longer lives with parent after time limit is reached


All states take the position that children who have reached a time limit as part of a household that includes an adult could resume receiving assistance after reaching the time limit if the children reside with a different caretaker and the adult who is past the time limit is not in the home. For example, if a mother and two children lose assistance due to a time limit and do not qualify for any extended benefits, the children could continue to receive benefits if they resided with their grandmother instead as long as the mother is not in the home.


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This page last updated September 02, 2023

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