The Pros & Cons of Family Assistance

Family with two children sitting in front house

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Family assistance programs provide financial help to parents who are economically insecure. Administered at the federal and state levels, these programs provide services to help parents care for their children's needs. Although keeping families intact and financially on track seems like an overwhelmingly positive idea, these services do come with drawbacks as well.

Goal Planning

If family assistance programs seem like free rides for people who don't want to work, think again. One of the pros of family assistance is the requirement to make a plan for the future. For example, the state of Pennsylvania's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families -- or TANF -- program requires eligible adults to complete an Agreement of Mutual Responsibility, or AMR. Instead of just receiving cash assistance, you must meet with a caseworker and write a plan that includes ways to eventually stop needing TANF. This may include your career goals, going to school or ways that you will look for work.

Time Limit

Families can't receive financial assistance for an unlimited time in most states. For many states, the time restrictions typically limit temporary family assistance to five years. This does not mean five consecutive years, but a grand total throughout your entire lifetime. While the time limit may encourage you to go to school or attend a career advancement training program, if you truly have no other option, it's possible to run out of help and have no other way of taking care of your children.

Gateway to Other Programs

Receiving family assistance may provide the opportunity for you to learn about and apply for other services that can benefit you and your children. Adults using an assistance program may also have to participate in mandatory services that can improve your overall financial situations. For example, the state of Arizona requires all adults who use TANF to join a mandatory employment and training program. This, and programs like it, help assistance recipients to improve their professional skills through coaching and work-related activities. This goes a step beyond listing goals, and can help you to develop real-world abilities that may make you better able to get a job.

Red Tape

Just because you need funds to improve your family's financial situation doesn't necessarily mean that you'll get them, or get them immediately. In order to get family assistance you'll need to prove that you're eligible. For example, the state of Nevada requires potential TANF recipients to not only meet income guidelines, but also undergo an extensive evaluation that looks at your current work-related skills and past employment, along with submitting documentation of your child's immunizations and proof that the child is enrolled in school. These, and other state's requirements, may mean that you have to wait in lengthy lines at a social services agency, find transportation to meet with a caseworker or take time away from your child to collect required documents from doctors, schools and former employers.