August 12, 2022

Florida's P-TANF Program: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Note: These FAQs respond to some of the questions many Floridians have about who is eligible for P-TANF, and why. Although this document will be updated to reflect any changes, FPI recommends consulting the Department of Children and Families’ website for up-to-date details about any clarifications or modifications to P-TANF eligibility criteria or issuance. 

Thousands of Floridians with children opened their mail last month to discover a check from the state to help them defray the ongoing costs of COVID-19. In mid-July, Florida mailed one-time lump-sum Pandemic Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (P-TANF) assistance payments of $450 per child to families with the lowest income in the state as well as to families caring for children in the child welfare system, such as the Guardianship Assistance Program and foster and kinship care.

Money for these checks came from federal COVID relief funds to help struggling families affected by the pandemic meet basic needs. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which administers P-TANF on the federal level, calls this money a singular opportunity for states to help its neediest families struggling with the effects of COVID-19.

These checks were good news, because Florida families continue to struggle from the impact of the pandemic on their income, jobs, and the cost of housing, utilities, and groceries.. Although not every family qualified for P-TANF, for those who did, P-TANF checks will go a long way to provide immediate economic relief to meet the basic needs of children most in need in the state.

What is P-TANF and where does the money come from?

Pandemic Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (P-TANF) was created and funded by Congress in President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 as a new add-on to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (regular TANF) program  at 42 U.S.C. §603(c). Congress named this new program “Pandemic Emergency Assistance,” although some states, like Florida and Georgia, call it P-TANF. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) administers P-TANF on the federal level and the Department of Children and Families (DCF) administers the program at the state level.

The federal government  gave each state that elected to take part in P-TANF a set allotment. Florida’s allotment was $35,508,000. P-TANF funds that states do not spend by September 30, 2022, will revert back to the federal government to be reallocated. Since DCF distributed its P-TANF funds before the September eadline, Florida does not have to worry about its P-TANF funds reverting back to the federal government.

Why did Florida only get $35.5 million?

The amount of funding that Florida received from the federal government for its P-TANF program was distributed according to a formula based on every state’s  child population and how much the state spent on specific TANF benefits in 2019.

Who are the families that qualify for P-TANF in Florida?

Florida had to make tough choices on how to cover as many children in need as possible with P-TANF, in order to ensure that their P-TANF payment was enough to be meaningful economic relief for their families. Ultimately, the state chose to provide P-TANF to the most vulnerable and low-income children in the state.

Approximately 59,000 Florida families qualified for P-TANF, including children in Florida’s child welfare system and children receiving regular TANF. Most of the children who qualified for P-TANF in Florida are children who are part of the child welfare system, such as those in foster care. Less than half of the children who were eligible for P-TANF are in families receiving regular TANF.

Specifically, the following families caring for children in the child welfare system were eligible for P-TANF:

  • Foster parents. Foster parents are people who are licensed by the state to take care of children in the foster care system.
  • Guardianship Assistance Program (GAP) participants. GAP is a program that provides  assistance payments to family members (or people who are like family) to care for children who have been taken away from their primary caregiver because of abuse or neglect. Eligibility is determined by DCF.

In addition to children in the child welfare system, other children who were eligible for P-TANF in Florida are those in the following families:

  • Families receiving regular TANF cash assistance. The regular TANF program is a time-limited cash assistance program for families with children who have little or no income. Regular TANF conditions eligibility on a participant complying with work rules, meeting residency and immunization requirements, and other things.

How much are P-TANF checks for?

Families who were eligible for P-TANF got a one-time check for $450 per child.

Do P-TANF checks count against other government benefits?

P-TANF does not count as income against regular TANF, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or Medicaid benefits. However, a family’s eligibility for other safety net benefits may be affected if they save the money and their total  savings puts them over the asset limit for another benefit program, like regular TANF. In TANF, the asset limit is $2,000, although not everything that a family owns counts toward that limit. For SNAP and Medicaid, most children and their parents or caretakers do not have an asset limit.  

Many families are having trouble right now paying  ordinary bills, much less buying new school clothes for their kids-- but did not get a P-TANF check. Why can’t everyone get P-TANF?

Eligibility for P-TANF in Florida was based on federal requirements and funding constraints. Because of these restrictions and limited funding, not all Florida families could be covered.

Thousands of  families with children continue to struggle to make ends meet because of the pandemic, especially with the soaring costs of everyday necessities, like school clothes, utilities, and food. Unfortunately, Florida’s P-TANF allotment was not enough to provide relief to all struggling families.

Florida had to make a difficult decision on who would get P-TANF by targeting those funds to  children and families who have the least. Not only did the state have to ensure that children in families with the lowest income and most in need would receive benefits, but also that those benefits were high enough to  help the family meet an essential need. In the end, Florida chose to  provide P-TANF to  families and children most in need in the quickest way possible, without subjecting families to red tape associated with having to submit an application.

Why are so few  families eligible for regular TANF in Florida?

In Florida, families must have little or no income to qualify for regular TANF, and very few families meet that criterion.

One of the reasons that many families with low income in Florida are ineligible for regular TANF is because the Legislature has not updated benefit payments for the program in three decades. In Florida’s regular TANF program, countable income, after certain modest deductions, cannot exceed the TANF payment standard for the family size. Yet allowable deductions are often too low to put the income of new applicants at or below the payment standard. For example, the highest payment standard for a family of three just applying for regular TANF in Florida is only $303, which was what it was 30 years ago.

One important way to ensure that regular TANF reaches more families in need is for the Florida Legislature to  update the program’s outdated payment standards. Not only would raising the payment standard allow more struggling families to  qualify for assistance, it would also ensure that benefits are high enough to meet the most basic needs of children in the program. As it is now, benefit payments for parents and caretakers in the regular TANF program (e.g., $303 for a family of three) are not enough to buy essentials for children in the family.

Making regular TANF accessible to more families in need by raising the payment standard may be too late when it comes to P-TANF, but it would help to ensure that more struggling families would get a meaningful hand up [h4] in the future.

What can eligible families spend their P-TANF check on?

Because few families have been affected by the pandemic in the same way, Florida allowed each eligible family to use their P-TANF check to address their individual challenges. In the letter that accompanied the checks, Governor DeSantis told families that they could use their P-TANF checks on “anything from buying diapers to fueling up at the pump.”   

When are families getting their P-TANF checks?

Eligible families should have already gotten their check in the mail from DCF. This was the only check that families will get from P-TANF.

P-TANF checks were mailed out in mid-July 2022. The state mailed the checks right before Florida’s Tax-Free Holiday so that families could make their money go further when getting their children ready to start the new school year.

What should families do if they think they are eligible for P-TANF but never got a check?

Families who think they should have received P-TANF — or who believe that their P-TANF check was not in the correct amount — should call DCF’s call center at 1-850-300-4323. DCF says that they will conduct a review of the cases of callers who have questions about eligibility and, if the family is eligible, process a payment for them.

Do families who qualify for Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) also qualify for P-TANF?

Just because a family qualifies for P-EBT does not mean they were eligible for P-TANF.

P-EBT and P-TANF are two completely different programs with different eligibility requirements. Unlike P-TANF, P-EBT for school year 2021-2022 is a program to help families buy groceries for children who normally would have gotten free or reduced-price meals at school through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) but who could not get those meals because they were temporarily absent from school due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Do families who participate in SNAP automatically qualify for P-TANF?

Families with children participating in SNAP are not one of the categories of families who qualified for P-TANF in Florida. To be eligible for P-TANF, families must have children  participating in the regular TANF  program or be part of the child welfare system.

Of course, some children in regular TANF or the child welfare system who received P-TANF may also be receiving SNAP — but receiving SNAP did not in and of itself make a family eligible for P-TANF.

Do families have to apply, be interviewed, or submit verification of eligibility  to get P-TANF?

One of the good things about how Florida chose to run its P-TANF program is that there is no red tape to hold up families from getting their benefits. In Florida, there is no application or other paperwork to be filled out for P-TANF. Instead, DCF automatically provided benefits to eligible families based on information that already existed in state records. Nor is there any requirement that families be interviewed, submit verification to prove their eligibility, comply with work requirements, or be referred to Child Support Enforcement.

For families participating in regular TANF, does getting a P-TANF check count against their time limits?

Getting a P-TANF check does not count toward the time limit that applies to a family’s regular TANF.

How did Florida decide which families would get  P-TANF funds?

Florida’s funding for P-TANF was capped by the federal government at $35,508,000 and had strings attached on how the money had to be used. Florida, like all states that participate in P-TANF, had to comply with  these federal restrictions in using their P-TANF funds. However, as long as states spend P-TANF money within those federal parameters, every state that chose to participate in P-TANF is allowed to decide which families will get P-TANF.

The biggest requirement imposed by federal law on use of P-TANF is that the money must be spent on “non-recurrent short-term benefits” for  “needy families with children.” Of course, states are also constrained by the amount in P-TANF funding they received from the federal government. Florida’s  P-TANF funding allotment was $35,508,000, which may sound like a lot but only stretches so far to help struggling families. The bottom line is that, because of Florida’s capped allotment amount and federal parameters for use of the funds, not every family having a tough time making ends meet was eligible for  P-TANF.

What does the term “non-recurrent short-term benefits” mean?

Federal law says that P-TANF must go for “non-recurrent short-term benefits.” Non-recurrent short-term benefits are benefits that are supposed to help a family deal with a specific crisis or episode of need—and not for recurrent or ongoing needs that a family keeps having.  To comply with the federal mandate that P-TANF be used for non-recurrent short-term needs, HHS explains that the benefits must:

  • Deal with a specific crisis or episode of need;
  • Not be intended to address on-going needs;
  • Not extend for more than four months;
  • Only include things like emergency assistance and diversion payments, emergency housing and short-term homelessness assistance, emergency food aid, short-term utilities payments, burial assistance, clothing allowances, and back-to-school payments; and,  
  • Cannot include tax credits, child care, transportation, or short-term education and training.

Providing one-time payments to families, which is the way Florida chose to use P-TANF, is one of the specific examples that HHS gives as an appropriate use of P-TANF.

Who is “needy” for P-TANF purposes”?

Under federal law, families have to be “needy” to get P-TANF. In fact, HHS says that P-TANF is a way to help the “nation’s neediest families struggling with the effects of the pandemic” and encourages states to use the funds to meet their basic needs.

Federal law gives states the  flexibility to decide who qualifies as “needy” for P-TANF. As an example of how states may want to define “needy” for P-TANF, HHS says that states may make their P-TANF income standards the same as the standard for the regular TANF program (gross income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) for non-recurrent short-term benefits)  or align income-eligibility with SNAP (gross income limit at or below 200 percent of the FPL) or Medicaid (as much as 211 percent of the FPL).

However, states can also choose to define “needy” another way.

Florida chose to define “needy” families as  those with the lowest income (i.e., families participating in regular TANF) as well as families caring for children who have been abused or neglected (i.e., children in the child welfare system).

Who is a “family” for P-TANF purposes?”

Federal law says that P-TANF funds must be spent on “families” with children but gives  states   considerable flexibility in determining who qualifies as a “family.”  Examples  HHS gives of the wide range of different family arrangements that can be served with P-TANF include, but are not limited to, pregnant women with no other children, caretakers who look after children with low income even if the caretaker is not “needy,”  and kinship placements allowed by state law.

Florida chose to define “family” for P-TANF purposes as regular TANF participants or families looking after children in the child welfare system.

Does the family have to have a child in the home?

Federal law governing P-TANF says that all families who receive assistance must have at least one child in the home. To meet this requirement, HHS says that even families with children who are temporarily absent from the home, as well as pregnant women with no other children at home, would meet the criteria of a family with children.

Under the categories of families that DCF chose to make eligible for P-TANF, most, if not all families must have a child currently in the home.

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