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Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) provides time-limited financial help to families, including grandfamilies, with very low incomes. TANF is the only major source of financial assistance for grandfamilies outside of the child welfare system.

Some states and counties also use TANF to implement state subsidized guardianship programs and provide other preventive services that help keep grandfamilies together and out of the foster care system.

Types of TANF Grants
There are two types of TANF grants. Each state determines the income eligibility and the amount of assistance provided to families.

Child Only Grant
  • Are typically quite small and may not sufficiently meet the needs of the child - in 2001, the average grant gave $7 per day for one child, with only slight increases for additional children
  • Typically considers only the needs and income of the child when determining eligibility
  • Provides only for the child’s needs
  • Are applicable to almost all l relative caregivers. Because few children have income of their own, almost all grandfamilies can receive a child-only grant on behalf of the children in their care
Family Grant
  • Are usually larger than child-only grants
  • Considers the caregiver’s and the child’s income when determining eligibility
  • Imposes 60 month time limit and work requirements (states can exempt relative caregivers from the family grant requirements and many do, but some do not)
  • Intended to provide funding for the needs of the child and the caregiver
  • May not be appropriate for retired relative caregivers or for caregivers who will need assistance for more than 60 months
Recently some states began changing their eligibility rules for “child only” grants so that the caregiver’s income is considered. Generations United is monitoring these changes and urging advocates and states to protect “child only” grants.

TANF and Child Support
When grandparents or other relatives are receiving TANF benefits on behalf of a child under either type of grant, they must assign their rights to child support to the state. In most states, relative caregivers must cooperate with the child support agency unless they can demonstrate that seeking child support is potentially harmful and they have “good cause” not to cooperate.

For example, sometimes grandparents and other relative caregivers provide care for children because of parental violence. They might fear that the child support process will lead to additional violence. In such cases, the state will not pursue child support collection or will pursue it in ways that protect the safety of the caregiver and the children.

Under current law, most of the child support collected for children receiving TANF is kept by the state to recoup the costs of providing assistance. However, states may pass through any or all of the child support collected to relative caregivers. Generally, only a modest amount is passed through, often no more than $50 per month.

Improving TANF for Grandfamilies
Congress is supposed to consider changes to the TANF program every several years through a process called reauthorization. Unfortunately Congress has not made reauthorization a priority and the program is overdue for many improvements.

Generations United recommends, for example, incentives for states to pass through to grandparent caregivers child support collected from the child’s parents. Find other recommendations in the income supports section of Generations United Public Policy Agenda. Please contact us with other recommendations for improving the TANF program.

The Grandfamilies State Law and Policy Resource Center
Benefits QuickLINK
Grandfamilies: The Second Intergenerational Action Agenda (PDF)
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