Screening and Assessment in TANF\Welfare-to-Work: Local Answers to Difficult Questions. Time Limits


Federal law limits the provision of federal TANF assistance to 60 months in an individual’s lifetime, and gives states the flexibility to impose shorter time limits. Moving from welfare to work within 60 months or less may present a particular challenge for clients with unobserved barriers to employment. 6 Time limits thus increase the sense of urgency surrounding the need to develop barrier identification approaches. Table 1 shows that four of the six study states have adopted the 60 month lifetime limit on federal assistance. Nevada and Virginia, impose shorter initial limits on welfare receipt and the first clients had already reached this limit at the time of our site visits. In Nevada, a client may receive welfare for 24 months, but is then ineligible for cash assistance for 12 months. Following this 12 month period of ineligibility, a client may again receive cash assistance up to a lifetime maximum of 60 months. Similarly, Virginia adopted a 24 month initial time limit, followed by 24 months of ineligibility, with a maximum total period of receipt not to exceed 60 months.7

States may provide more than 60 months of federally-funded assistance to up to 20 percent of their caseload based on hardship exemption criteria. Although not reviewed here, some of the study sites were reviewing possible criteria upon which to grant hardship exemptions, including the existence of unobserved barriers to employment.

7  In Virginia, clients are eligible for 12 months of transitional assistance following their 24 months of cash assistance. The 24 month period of ineligibility begins following the receipt of transitional assistance, effectively leaving clients without cash assistance for 36 months before being eligible for additional cash assistance.

Table 1: Selected TANF Policy Characteristics

Study state

 Began in Study State
as of
9/00 a
TANF Caseload Decline
1/95-9/00 b
 Maximum Monthly TANF Benefit Level
   for a 3 Person
  Family c
Exempt from Work Participation Due to Disability? d Time Limit (in months) e Date First
 Time Limit f
Kansas 1995 12,713 56% $403 No 60 10/01
Kentucky 1996 37,249 51% $262 No 60 11/01
Minnesota 1997 39,005 36% $801 g Yes 60 7/02
Nevada 1995 h 6,473 60% $348 No 24 followed by 12 months of ineligibility; 60 total 01/00
Virginia 1996 29,939 59% $320 Yes 24 followed by 24 months of ineligibility; 60 total 10/99
Washington 1997 53,759 48% $546 No 60 8/02

a  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation. as of 11/1/01.

b  Urban Institute calculations based on Department of Health and Human Services caseload statistics reported at and as of 11/1/01.

c  Monthly cash assistance for a single-parent family with no earnings as of 2001. Center on Law and Social Policy and Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. State Policy Documentation Project at as of 12/11/01.

d  Ibid.

e  Ibid.

f   Ibid.

g  Minnesota provides a cash grant that combines cash assistance and Food Stamp benefits.

h  Official welfare reform policy was not implemented until January 1998 and federal time limits began counting in Nevada in January 1997.

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