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Q & A: Time Limits

TANF Program Policy Questions and Answers

Published: April 30, 2009
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
Data Collection and Reporting, Federal Five-Year Time Limits, TANF Guidance
TANF Program Policy Questions and Answers, Time Limits

Time Limits


Q1: If a State has adopted the Family Violence Option, may it "stop the clock" for families experiencing domestic violence?

A1: The Family Violence Option allows a State to provide good cause domestic violence waivers of various program requirements to anyone it has identified as a victim of domestic violence if compliance with those requirements would make it more difficult for the person to escape domestic violence or would unfairly penalize the person. However, the statute and final TANF rules1 "stop the clock" (i.e., the Federal 60-month clock) for a family receiving federally-funded assistance only when the family does not include a head-of-household or spouse of the head-of-household, or when a family lives in Indian country or a Native Alaskan Village where at least 50 percent of the adults are not employed.

While States may not stop the Federal clock for families experiencing domestic violence, States may protect the family from accrual of months under the Federal clock by paying their assistance with State-only funds. States may also use Federal TANF funds to provide assistance as long as necessary to families that reach the Federal time limit and are currently experiencing domestic violence or have been unable to successfully transition off welfare due to past domestic violence experiences.

Such families are included in determining whether a State exceeds the 20-percent limit on families receiving TANF assistance for more than 60 months. However, the State may claim reasonable cause for exceeding the 20-percent limit if it can show that its failure to meet the limit is attributable to the granting of good cause domestic violence waivers and its waivers met the standards for Federal recognition in subpart B of part 260.


1See sections 408(a)(7)(B) and (D) of the Act and 45 CFR 264.1(a) and (b).

Q2: For a two-parent family, does a month count towards the time limit when one parent is exempt from Federal time limit provisions and the other parent is not exempt?

A2: Months of receipt of assistance accrue individually for the head-of-household and the spouse. However, since the time limit is imposed on a family as a whole, once one parent reaches the 60-month time limit, even if the other parent has not, the entire family becomes ineligible for federally-funded TANF assistance.

Q3: For a two-parent family, in a month that counts towards the time limit for one parent (the head-of-household), but does not count for the other parent (the spouse), how is this reported in Item 28 on the TANF Data Report?

A3: The family is coded "01" in Item 28 since the family as a whole is not exempt. The family should be coded as exempt only if both the head-of-household and the spouse (if there is a spouse in the family) are exempt for that month.

Q4: Does a month count towards the TANF time limit when a family, although eligible, receives no assistance because the State does not issue payments of less than $10? Does the month count if the family is eligible, but receives no assistance, e.g., because of a grant recoupment for a prior overpayment or a full-family sanction?

A4: A month for which the head-of-household or spouse of the head-of-household receives TANF assistance counts towards the Federal time limit. If neither the head-of-household nor the spouse receives TANF assistance for a month, that month does not count. Thus, if a family, although eligible, receives no TANF assistance for a month either because of a State's $10 minimum payment policy or because of recoupment or a full-family sanction, the month does not count towards the Federal time limit.

Q5: May a family use lump sum income to repay TANF assistance in order to reduce the number of months on the time clock? If so, may the State apply the repayment at its discretion?

A5: A State may opt to permit families to pay back the TANF assistance they received in order to reduce the number of months that have accrued towards the TANF time limit. The State must establish a reasonable, fair, and equitable policy for determining how to apply repayments from families.

Q6: Is an individual required to have reached their 60-month limit before requesting a hardship extension? Is there a way to “suspend” the clock if this individual is in residential alcohol and drug treatment?

A6: Yes, an eligible individual is required to reach their 60-month time limit before they can qualify for a hardship extension. According to section 408(a)(7) of the Social Security Act and the regulations at 45 CFR 264.1 – 264.3, States are prohibited from using Federal funds to provide assistance to a family who has received Federally-funded assistance for 60 cumulative months. States are permitted to extend assistance to a limited number of families once the 60-month time limit has been reached and if families have experienced hardship, as defined by the State, or these families include an individual who has been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty as defined in the statute. The number of families receiving assistance for more than 60 months must not exceed 20 percent of the State's average monthly caseload.

To reiterate, the definition of “hardship” is a State decision. An eligible individual receiving assistance while in a residential alcohol or drug treatment program beyond the 60-month time period can be accommodated if the State elects to define this circumstance as a “hardship”. However, if the need for residential treatment occurs within the 60-month period (and the individual remains eligible for assistance), the 60 month “count” continues. The “hardship” definition “kicks in” beginning with the 61st month. Suspension of the 60-month “clock” is inappropriate.

Last Reviewed: May 20, 2019