Answers to the most frequently asked questions about applying for cash assistance and how the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program can help you and your family move to financial independence are listed below.
Does it pay to work?
Yes! A Pennsylvania family with a working adult earns more income and greater benefits than a family without a working adult. Ask your caseworker now for the information you need to plan your future.
- How can I find a job?
- How will a job affect cash assistance, SNAP and Medical Assistance benefits for my children and me?
- What can you do for me if I do not have adequate schooling or training?
- How can I move up from an entry-level job?
- Will the cash assistance program help me find and pay for my child care?
- Will the cash assistance program pay for my transportation while I look for work or go to work?
- What if I need new clothes for my job?
Remember, not all benefits are financial. Getting a job will help build your self-esteem, self-worth and confidence. It allows you to make new friends and business connections that may serve as stepping stones to bigger and better things. It also sets a good example for your children to follow.
How do I look for a job or start an initial job search?
Anyone who receives cash assistance and is able to work must look for work, accept any real offer of employment, and keep the job. This process begins with an initial job search. You can participate in an initial job search with help from a caseworker at your local county assistance office.
Working with your caseworker, you should decide which program would best help you find a job. Think about what each program has to offer you, given your work history, skills, level of education, availability of transportation, child care arrangements, interviewing background, resume writing experience, etc.
Ask your caseworker the following questions about available programs:
- Where are the classes held?
- How often during the job search would I go to class?
- What are the hours?
- How many weeks does the program last?
What skills will I learn?
If you need to make plans for child care and/or transportation during your job search -- and for the future when you are working — ask your caseworker:
- How can I find affordable, quality child care?
- What should I be looking for in a child care provider?
- Are any transportation programs available?
- What other help can I get to pay for costs related to my job search?
Can I get child care while I am working or training?
Child Care Works will help you find and pay for quality child care while you are on cash assistance and looking for a job, going to work or going to school. Child Care Works will also help you while you are working after cash assistance ends. For more information, call the Child Care Works helpline at 1-877-4-PA-KIDS (1-877-472-5437) or visit: Child Care Works.
You have the right to choose the type of care your children receive. Payments will be made when you and your child care provider need them.
Ask your caseworker these questions so you choose the right child care for your family’s needs:
- What child care options do I have?
- Can I get help paying a relative or neighbor to watch my children?
- Who can help me find suitable child care?
- Will payments be made to me or directly to the child care provider?
- What do I have to do to get help paying for child care?
- Will my child care provider have to wait for a payment?
- What forms do I need to fill out, and what do I do with them?
- Will I have to make any co-payment towards the cost of child care?
- My child care center charges for holidays and for occasional days missed. Will you help me pay for that?
- I work nights and need someone to watch my child while I sleep during the day. Is help available?
- If I close my cash assistance case after I start working, what happens to my child care payments?
When should I get more education or training?
Get started on your education or training program as soon as possible. As you plan how you will support yourself and your family, remember that education or training programs can help you find a better job. This could include finishing high school, getting your GED or learning new skills.
During your first two years on cash assistance — after you complete your initial job search — going to an approved education or training program can help you meet work requirements.
If you are still participating in the education or training program after you have been on cash assistance for two years, you may be able to combine your hours of work and school to meet requirements.
Ask your caseworker if this applies to you. Ask your caseworker for the information you need to decide if an education or training program is a good idea for you:
- What special rules apply to students under age 22?
- I’m already in school—should I look for work now?
- Can I work part-time and stay in school?
- Are there any programs to help me decide what kind of training would help me get the kind of job I want?
- Can I go to school or enter a training program and continue to get cash assistance?
- Can I continue my education or training until I graduate?
- Should I work while I’m attending school or training?
- Will the cash assistance program help pay for child care and transportation while I attend school or training?
- Can I get my books, supplies and the other things I need to be paid for by the cash assistance program?
- What if I need new clothes for school or training?
I have a disability and I want to work. Can I still get Medical Assistance?
If you have a disability and you decide to go to work, it is possible to receive Medical Assistance, even when your earnings increase beyond the normal eligibility limit. To be eligible for this program, you must:
- Be age 16 to 64.
- Be employed and receiving compensation.
- Have a disability as determined by the Department of Human Services (DHS). A disability might include, but is not limited to, a physical or developmental disability, mental retardation, HIV or AIDS.
- Have countable income below 250 percent of the federal poverty level. You still might qualify if you earn a little more. Ask your caseworker for help figuring out if you are eligible.
- Have less than or equal to $10,000 in countable assets. Some items, such as your house or car, do not count toward this $10,000 limit. Ask your caseworker for help figuring out if you are eligible.
- All participants must pay a monthly premium of five percent of their countable monthly income.
- If you are eligible, your health care coverage might include doctor visits, dental and vision services, prescriptions, drug and alcohol treatment, hospital stays, rehabilitation services, hospice services, transportation to doctor visits, medical supplies and in-home health care.
I found a job! Now what?
Congratulations, you are on your way towards independence. Here are some of the steps you should take now that you have found a job:
- Arrange for your child care and transportation. Make sure you have a back-up plan for emergencies.
- Ask your new employer for the information you and your caseworker need. Give this information to your caseworker, and then ask your caseworker how the job will change your situation.
Note: If you still qualify for some cash assistance benefits, think about whether you want to continue to receive them or try to make it on your pay. If you make it on your pay, you can stop the TANF clock and save days on cash assistance for the future. Ask your caseworker how your child care is affected if you stop receiving cash assistance.
How can I get extra money from the IRS for working?
If you work and have a valid Social Security number, you may be eligible for the federal Earned Income Credit (EIC) and the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. The amount of these refunds will depend on the size of your family and amount of your income. You can get this credit even if you don't owe any federal taxes.
The Earned Income Credit — also known as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) — benefits low-income workers with children who are:
- Under age 19
- Under 24 and a full-time student
- Any age if your child has a permanent or severe disability.
To claim your credit, you must file a federal tax return and use the Schedule EIC, even if your family doesn't owe any taxes.
The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit benefits low-income workers with children under age 13, even if you do not owe any federal taxes.
Check in your community for the location of sites offering free help in preparing your federal income tax return. The IRS offers free tax preparation through a program called Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). These sites are usually open from the end of January through April 15.
The Earned Income Credit and Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit may not affect your family's eligibility for cash assistance, Medicaid, or SNAP. However, you must report receiving the credit to your caseworker.
For more information about these credits, call the Internal Revenue Service at 1-800-829-1040 or check their Web site at www.irs.gov.
Please Note: Pennsylvania has a PA Tax Forgiveness program, please contact the PA Department of Revenue at 717-787-8201.
What if I'm exempt from the work requirement, can't work, or can't get or keep a job?
Consider volunteering for the Maximizing Participation Project (MPP), which is designed to help you overcome obstacles, reach your individual potential, improve your quality of life, and move your family toward self-sufficiency. Your local county assistance office caseworker and other professionals will guide you through the program.
Professional services available may include:
- Needs Assessment
- Health Care Services
- Access to Special Services
- Job Coaching
- Education and Training
You can get help paying for child care, transportation, or other costs associated with being in this program.
What if I'm a new single parent?
If you are excused (exempt) from participating in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program work requirements because you are caring for a child under one year old, or if you are about to have a baby, you should know these three important facts:
You can only be exempt for this reason for the 12 months total over the course of your lifetime:
- Use this time wisely because you do not get 12 months for each baby you have. If you use up all 12 months to care for one baby, you probably will not be able to get any time off to care for another baby down the road.
- If you plan to have another child in the next few years, you may not want to use all 12 months at this time. Instead, you should think about saving some of the 12 months in case you have another baby soon.
- You may also be exempted from the work requirements while you are recovering from delivering your baby — this does not count against your 12 months. Have your doctor fill out a medical assessment form to determine if you are exempt.
Even if you are exempt, you can still participate in some programs:
- If you are excused from the work requirements, you can still get special allowances to pursue education or training as part of your plan to achieve self-sufficiency—make sure this is in your Agreement of Mutual Responsibility (AMR).
- If you volunteer to go to school or participate in a work or training program approved in your AMR, you may qualify for help with expenses, like child care, transportation or books. But to be accepted as a volunteer in some work programs, you must agree to stay in that program for a set period of time.
- To learn more about available programs, call your local County Assistance Office caseworker.
What if I am working but still receiving Cash Assistance?
- Ask your employer for a raise, or if you can work more hours.
- Look for more work, or for better paying work.
- Ask your caseworker about referral to programs that may help you get a higher paying job.
What happens if I am not working and cannot find a job?
If you are performing community service or other unpaid work experience:
- Look for paid employment.
- Ask your caseworker for referral to programs that can help you find a job.
If you are not currently working:
- Ask your caseworker about the Maximizing Participation Project (MPP).
- Ask your caseworker about employment and training programs that can help you.
What happens if I have physical or mental problems which keep me from working?
- Ask your caseworker about the MPP.
- Ask your caseworker about the Disability Advocacy Program (DAP).
You can get help paying for child care, transportation, and other things you may need to participate in most of these programs. Remember, you may still keep health care coverage, food stamps, and other support services after cash assistance ends. An adult may receive cash assistance for only five years total in a lifetime.
What can I do to stop my five-year TANF clock?
There are certain circumstances when you can have up to 12 months of cash assistance that would not count toward your five-year lifetime limit. This is referred to as a "TANF Time-Out." Ask your caseworker about TANF Time-Out.
You may qualify for TANF time-out if:
- You are a victim of domestic violence; or
- You care for a related child, not your own, and:
- You are not receiving cash assistance for your own child(ren), and
- You continue to get cash assistance for yourself and the related child, and
- You have already received cash assistance for yourself and a related child (not your own) for 24 months, or;
- The child has been placed with you by a court order, through the Children and Youth agency.
You may continue to be eligible for cash assistance benefits after the five-year Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) limit has ended through "Extended TANF."
You may be eligible for Extended TANF if:
- You are working or in an approved training program.
- You or a family member is a victim of domestic violence.
- You have physical or mental condition that prevents you from working.
- You have a family crisis.
- You are caring for an individual who is disabled.
- You have a child under the age of 12 months.
- You are able to work, but can't find a job.
Eligibility for Extended TANF may require you to participate in an approved program such as the Maximizing Participation Project (MPP) or the Work Plus Program (WPP).
If you participate in MPP or WPP, your caseworker and other professionals will guide you through the programs. You can get help paying for child care, transportation, or other costs while you are in MPP, WPP or other approved programs.
If my Cash Assistance ends, what happens to my family's health care coverage?
Your family may be eligible to receive free or low-cost health care coverage, even if you no longer receive cash assistance. In fact, you and your family automatically remain eligible for Medical Assistance (MA)/Medicaid for at least six months after you start working, no matter how much money you make. Additionally, your children might remain eligible for Medicaid even after you no longer qualify. These programs can help working families: