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May 01, 2014

How Grandparent and Relative Caregivers Can Access Support through the TANF Program

Generations United

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is often the only financial support available to grandfamilies—families raising extended family members, like grandparents, and close family friends.

TANF may provide grandfamilies with support in several ways:

  • monthly cash to help meet the needs of the grandfamily or to meet the needs of children they are raising;
  • short-term help to meet a need like buying a crib or paying a utility bill;
  • a pathway to access other important supports, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)/food stamps and Medicaid.

TANF is a federal program, so it’s available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam. However, it varies dramatically from state to state. States have a lot of flexibility to decide who is eligible and how much support to provide. States can even call TANF by different names. 

This fact sheet answers questions from relative caregivers in general terms that apply no matter where they live. It is a useful resource advocates can give to relative caregivers to help them understand how TANF can meet some financial needs when raising children. 

Questions and Answers

(1) I hear there are two types of TANF grants. What are they?

The two types of TANF grants are known as “child-only” and “family” grants. They may be called different things where you live.

Child-only grants

Child-only grants were designed to consider only the needs and income of the child. A child’s income might include child support payments or a public benefit like Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Because most children have limited income, most relative caregivers can receive a child-only grant on behalf of the children in their care.

Child-only grants are usually smaller than family grants. Although they may not be enough to meet all the needs of the children, they can help. The average grant is about $8 per day for one child. This is the national average, so some states pay more and some pay less. All states, however, pay only slightly more for any additional children in the grandfamily.1 In other words, the children you raise would not each get $8 (on average) per day to meet their needs; only the first child would get the full amount.

Family grants

The second type of TANF grant you may be eligible for is a “family grant.” If you meet your state’s income guidelines, you can receive a grant that addresses your needs, as well as those of the children you’re raising. These grants are limited under federal law to no more than 60-months and you typically have to meet requirements to work or look for work.

States can make exceptions to these work requirements and time limits. Many states make these exceptions and/or allow time extensions for caregivers who are over age 60, are needed in the home to care for an incapacitated/disabled household member or are providing care for young children. Some states make other exceptions that might be specific to relative caregivers like you.

(2) For either type of grant, I’ve been told that I have to give my right to child support to the state, so the state can try to collect money from the parents. I don’t want to make the parents mad and have them physically hurt my grandchild and me. What do I do?

There is a federal requirement that you give your right to child support to the state. However, you can ask for a “good cause” exception to this requirement. The federal government allows states to make these exceptions. “Good cause” usually includes your fear that the parents will be violent towards you and the children. Some states spell out in writing how to get one of these exceptions, and some don’t, but all states can grant them. 

(3) I’m not related by blood, marriage or adoption to the child I’m raising. He’s my godchild (or my neighbor or the child of a family friend). Can I still get a family or a child-only TANF grant?

The ability to get TANF if you’re not related by blood, marriage or adoption depends on where you live. The federal government allows states to define “relative” for TANF, and some define “relative” to include godparents and other family friends.

(4) If my granddaughter and I get TANF, can we also get Medicaid and SNAP/food stamps?

Yes. If you get TANF, you should be able to get other supports as well. In several states, TANF application forms are “combined application” forms. These forms usually include TANF, SNAP/food stamps, and Medicaid. Even if the forms are not combined, states often automatically enroll beneficiaries in SNAP/food stamps, child care assistance (if working or in school), and Medicaid. While these programs have different eligibility rules, many are not applied to TANF recipients.2

Know that if you apply for SNAP at the same time as a TANF child-only grant, you will be asked about your income, in addition to the child’s income. In most states, your income information is only used to figure out the amount of SNAP benefits you can get. The state will not use your income information for any other purpose.

(5) My friend told me she got some short-term benefits through TANF to help her pay for her nephew’s school supplies and bed. How can I get some help like that?

The federal government allows states to use TANF funds to pay for short-term benefits. Many states offer these benefits. Depending on where you live, they may be used to cover many different types of expenses, like a utility bill or a burial. These benefits are usually onetime benefits to help with a specific crisis or need, and will not last more than four months. To get this help, you do not have to meet work requirements.

(6) TANF could really help us, but I’ve never asked for help from the government and I don’t want to start now. What should I do?

We often hear these types of comments and concerns from grandfamilies like yours. Caseworkers, judges, attorneys, and others can add to your concerns by saying insensitive things —things like “you’re only raising the children for the money,” or “family should take care of family without government help.” Try to dismiss these ignorant comments. You and others like you have heroically stepped forward to care for children and keep families together. Congress said that one of the three primary reasons TANF was created was to help grandfamilies like yours.

Also know that most people—with the exception of the very wealthy —need help to meet the many needs of children they didn’t expect to raise. Consider the costs. It will cost about $240,000 for a middle-income couple to raise a child born in 2012 for 18 years.3 This does not even include the cost of college. The costs of extra food, clothes, child care, school supplies all add up.

Despite the costs of raising children and the fact that TANF was created to help relatives raising children, only 12 percent of grandfamilies access it.4 We want to see it help more families like yours. So, please get the support you deserve to meet the needs of the children you’re raising. Think of it as helping the children, which is what TANF will do.

© 2014, Generations United. Adapted and reprinted with permission.

Generations United is the national membership organization focused on improving the lives of children, youth, and older people through intergenerational strategies, programs, and public policies. It is a partner organization with the ABA Center on Children and the Law’s Grandfamilies Project, 


1. U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). TANF and Child Welfare Programs: Increased Data Sharing Could Improve Access to Benefits and Services, 2011. 

2. Sheila Zedlewski, TANF and the Broader Safety Net, 2012.

3. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Expenditures on Children by Families, 2012. 

4. Annie E. Casey Foundation. Stepping Up For Kids: What Government and Communities Should Do to Support Kinship Families, 2012.