Long Time Coming

More vulnerable children and families across Illinois now have access to the cash assistance provided through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. A new law extends TANF eligibility to all families living in “deep poverty,” those with incomes below 50% of the federal poverty level (FPL).

Increased access to TANF cash assistance was a long time coming.

PCG advocated for the passage of HB 2383 which was passed by the IL General Assembly in May 2009 (as HB 2383), but the governor postponed the effective date of the bill with an amendatory veto. The bill returned to the General Assembly for a concurrence vote—now as HB 1800—in the October veto session. The bill passed both chambers in October, was signed into law on January 21, 2010, and took effect on July 1, 2010.

Previously, eligibility for TANF assistance had been set at 30% of the FPL ($508.61 per month or $6,103 per year for a family of three). With eligibility at 50% of the FPL, a family of three earning $762.92 per month or $9,155 per year can apply for and receive cash assistance. This means that the 680,000 Illinoisans living in deep poverty, many of whom are children, will have access to some much-needed income support and transitional services. They will be better able to pay for their living expenses—basics like utilities, rent, clothing, and transportation.

Other measures designed to increase access to the TANF program and improve efficiency for children and families include:

  • requiring benefits to be paid within 30 days of the date of application instead of 45 days;
  • making benefits payable from the date of application rather than 30 days after application;
  • allowing applicants 30 days after their application before they are required to participate in work-related activities; and
  • disregarding—once an application is approved—three-fourths instead of two-thirds of a recipient’s earned income in order to encourage employment and keep eligible for limited assistance those families with earned income until their incomes reach the FPL.

Through the Family Violence Option (FVO), previously known in Illinois as the Domestic Violence Exclusion, any program requirement may be waived when compliance would make it more difficult to escape violence, put an individual at further risk of violence, or unfairly penalize an individual who is or has been victimized. HB 1800 extends the FVO to survivors of sexual violence as well.

Expanded access to TANF cash assistance is good news for the hundreds of thousands very low-income families, especially during this time of economic crisis. The new law increases work incentives (an integral component of the TANF program); provides applicants with timely assistance needed to stabilize their lives; and expands crisis assistance for victims of domestic and sexual violence.

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