Public Benefits are Key! TANF and WorkFirst Training – October 27th, 2022

Welcome back to Public Benefits are Key!

As our frontline human service workers, you know the difference public benefits can make! One of the most vital benefits is TANF, a cash assistance program that is accessed by over 700,000 families in the US.

Check out our October 27th presentation to learn about TANF eligibility, benefit extensions and exceptions, WorkFirst requirements, and helpful client advocacy tips from Hannah Rosenberger from Solid Ground and the Coalition’s own Sara Robbins!

How can my client gain access to TANF?

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a cash assistance program available to families based on income, resources, family size, and citizenship status. A family may be eligible for TANF if applicants:

  • Meet the income limits for the program
  • Are US Citizens or lawful permanent residents of the United States – although non-citizens may be eligible for the State Family Assistance Program
  • Are Washington state residents
  • Are responsible for child or pregnant person
  • Cooperate with the Division of Child Support (if a parent is required to pay child support) – however, this may be waived if cooperating may endanger the family, such as in cases of domestic violence

Additionally, WA families ineligible for TANF due to non-citizenship that are victims of crimes can access food, cash, and medical – check out the this resource for more information!

Child-Only TANF is also available for some children, even when other household members, including kin caregivers, are ineligible due to non-citizenship.

How Long do TANF benefits last?

TANF is typically available for only 60 months in a person’s lifetime. However, there are a few exceptions that allow a family to receive benefits for longer, such as if the household includes:

Families may also be eligible for hardship extensions if they are homeless or a survivor of family violence, in addition to other conditions.

Currently, all TANF recipients are eligible for a hardship extension due to COVID-19 through June 2023 – including those who have had benefits terminated.

What is WorkFirst?

WorkFirst is a ‘path to employment’ program that most TANF recipients are required to participate in. It requires recipients to participate in employment, job search, job training, or education activities for 30-40 hours per week. Some recipients may be exempt from WorkFirst requirements, such as if:

  • You have a baby under 1 year old
  • You have a severe and chronic disability
  • You are a caregiver aged 55 or older
  • You are caregiver that is responsible for a special needs child
  • You are a caregiver that is responsible for an adult relative with disabilities

To comply with WorkFirst requirements and receive full benefits, a recipient must attend a WorkFirst orientation and adhere to the terms of an Individual Responsibility Plan, which is a contract as decided by both the TANF recipient and DSHS, that should evaluate the barriers and tools needed that affect a person’s ability to work.

In order to surpass these barriers, TANF recipients are entitled to WorkFirst Support Services, which grants up to $5,000 per year to access:

  • Personal hygiene needs
  • Childcare
  • Vehicle repair
  • Licenses and other occupational expenses
  • Relocation expenses
  • And more!

For more information for advocates, visit the Support Services Directory.

What are WorkFirst Sanctions?

In certain cases, TANF recipients may be sanctioned for not complying with the conditions defined in their Individual Responsibility Plan (IRP), such as not taking a job offer or completing job readiness activities like job training or school, or if DSHS cannot contact a TANF recipient, which can result in a reduction in TANF benefits.

This may not be the fault of the TANF recipient! Some reasons for DSHS perceiving noncompliance include family illness, lost transportation, housing insecurity, or immediate legal problems that would prevent a person from job readiness activites. Clients may also have disabilities that prevent them from completing portions of their IRP, which should be documented in an Equal Access Plan.

If benefits are denied, terminated, sanctioned or there is an overpayment assessed a client can request a hearing. A hearing can be requested in any of the following ways:

  • The case worker listed on the recipient’s IRP
  • DSHS Customer Service: 1-877-501-2233
  • Office of Hearing Administration: 800-583-8271

Advocates can help! Any client who needs an authorized representative, including a client’s service provider, can advocate for a client’s benefits, with their client’s permission!

***Do you have specific questions for a client? Providers can contact Solid Ground’s Ask a Lawyer Program at – include “ask a lawyer” in the subject line – or call 206-694-6742.