Cash Assistance Programs

Revised May 3, 2024


This section contains rules and procedures on how to decide who is in an assistance unit for TANF, SFA, PWA, ABD cash and HEN referral.

WAC 388-408-0005 What is a cash assistance unit?

WAC 388-408-0015 Who must be in my assistance unit?

WAC 388-408-0020 When am I not allowed to be in a TANF or SFA assistance unit?

WAC 388-408-0025 When can I choose who is in my TANF or SFA assistance unit?

WAC 388-408-0030 What children must be in the same TANF or SFA assistance unit?

WAC 388-408-0060 Who is in my assistance unit for Aged, Blind, or Disabled (ABD) cash assistance?

WAC 388-408-0070 Who is included in my assistance unit when the department determines eligibility for referral to the housing and essential needs (HEN) program?

For more complete details see these EA-Z Manual chapters: APPLICATION and INTERVIEW REQUIREMENTS OTHER HELPFUL INFORMATION

Clarifying Information - WAC 388-408-0005

For cash programs, we decide who is in the AU at application and when someone moves in or out of the home. We make this decision before we look at financial eligibility requirements.

In general, we decide who to include in the AU based on the relationship of people living in the home and whether they meet eligibility requirements other than income or resources. We may allocate the income of someone in the home excluded from the AU to people in the AU if the excluded person is financially responsible for someone in the AU.

Clarifying Information - WAC 388-408-0015

  1. Home-monitored clients for TANF/SFA:

    A client that lives in the home but is under home monitoring or home detention ordered by the courts or the Department of Corrections is living in the home. We do not consider them as inmates of a public institution. Clients that live in a public institution aren't eligible for TANF under WAC 388-400-0005.

  2. How a child's adoption affects the relationship between a child and their siblings:

    Adoption ends the legal relationship between biological siblings.

EXAMPLE Doug and Wendy have legally adopted their 12-year-old grandchild Tom. They have taken in Tom's little sister Lisa, but haven't adopted her. Doug and Wendy want TANF for Lisa as non-needy caretaker relatives. Because his grandparents legally adopted Tom, we do not recognize Tom and Lisa as having a legal relationship as siblings.
NOTE: If Doug and Wendy wanted assistance for both Tom and Lisa, the four of them would all be in the same AU as required under WAC 388-408-0030.
  1. How a child's adoption affects the relationship between a child and their biological parent(s):
    1. Adoption ends the legal relationship between a child and the biological parents.
EXAMPLE Grandparents have legally adopted their grandchild. The biological mother has since moved into the household. The biological mother would like to apply for TANF for herself and the child excluding the adoptive parents in the AU. Because the child’s grandparents have legally adopted him or her, we do not recognize the biological mother and child as having a legal relationship.
  1. When a child is placed in a permanent guardianship:
    1. WAC 388-450-0100  explains the financially responsible person is legally obligated to support the dependent and defines the financially responsible person as a parent, stepparent, adoptive parent, spouse or caretaker relative.  WAC 388-450-0105 says the income of a financially responsible person is countable to meet the needs of the assistance unit.  If a child is permanently placed with a guardian and the guardian now has legal and financial responsibility for the child, they must both be included in the AU. 

EXAMPLE Blessica is applying for TANF for her granddaughter Mahalia. Blessica provides documentation she has temporary custody of Mahalia while her dad is incarcerated. Since Blessica is not Mahalia’s parent and she isn’t legally or financially responsible for Mahalia, she can apply for a non-needy TANF grant for Mahalia.

EXAMPLE Six months later Blessica reports Mahalia won’t be going back to her parents’ home and provides a document verifying she’s now receiving the Guardianship Assistance Program (GAP) subsidy and has accepted legal and financial responsibility for Mahalia. Since Blessica is now financially responsible for Mahalia, we can’t exclude her from the TANF AU.   

NOTE: If Blessica wanted assistance for Mahalia, she would need to apply for benefits for both of them. 


  1. When a pregnant minor or minor parent lives with their parents:
    It doesn't change who we include in the AU if a pregnant or minor parent who lives with their parent gets married, starts military service, or gets emancipated by court order.
  2. How we apply the AU rules in some common situations:
    1. A married woman applies for assistance for herself and her two children from a previous marriage. She lives with her husband. She has a child in common with her husband and he has a child by a previous marriage. She doesn't want assistance for her husband, his child, or the common child. We must include all of the children in the AU because the husband must be included as he is the natural father of two of the kids and the stepfather of the other two.
    2. A grandmother applies for cash assistance for her grandchild as a non-needy relative. The minor parent of the grandchild lives in the home as well. Since you can't separate a child from their parent that lives in the home, we must include the minor parent in the AU. In this case, we would include the minor parent and allocate the income of their parent to the AU.

Clarifying Information - WAC 388-408-0020

If a financially responsible person cannot be in the AU under WAC 388-408-0020, we allocate the income of this person to the AU. How we allocate this income varies based on why the person is ineligible. See INCOME - Allocation and Deeming.

If a minor parent gets Title IV-E foster care, the minor parent's child is not eligible for TANF or SFA. The foster care payment includes the child's needs.

Adoption support

Adoption support is money given to families that adopt children with special needs. This money is intended to help the family with the special expenses that these children have.

For cash, this money is excluded because it is assistance from another agency that does not cover ongoing living expenses. See WAC 388-450-0055 for more information.

For Basic Food, this money is budgeted as countable unearned income.


Guardianship Assistance Program (GAP)

Guardianship Assistance GAP, also known as guardianship income, is money given to caregivers who accept permanent guardianship of a child. These caregivers have accepted permanent legal and financial responsibility for the child in their care and therefore must be included in the TANF AU.  The Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) determined these children have special needs.  This money is intended to help the family with the special expenses for the children.  The income is considered the children’s income.

For cash, this money is excluded because it is assistance from another agency that does not cover ongoing living expenses. See WAC 388-450-0055 for more information.

For Basic Food, this money is budgeted as countable unearned income.

Worker Responsibilities - WAC 388-408-0025

  1. Parent or caretaker relative of a child that gets SSI:
    In order to decide if an AU member is eligible for TANF, count a child who gets SSI as an "eligible child" even though the child isn't eligible for TANF. Don't include the SSI child's income, resources, or needs when you determine the AU's eligibility and grant amount. If the parent of an SSI child asks for assistance as a needy caretaker relative, don't include the parent's spouse or other children in the AU unless the parent wants assistance for them.
  2. Relatives who are not the child's parent:
    1. If a non-parent relative chooses to get TANF instead of foster care payments, they can choose whether or not to be in the AU based on their needs.
    2. If a non-parent relative chooses to get foster care payments for a child in their care and the relative needs financial assistance, count the child a "dependent child" to make the relative eligible for TANF or SFA. Don't include the foster child's income, resources, or needs when you determine the AU's eligibility and grant amounts.
    3. If a couple is married and applying as a needy relative for a child who is not their child, only one of the relatives can be a recipient on the grant. The non-parental caregiver and their spouse cannot both be on the grant.
    4. If a non-parent relative chooses to get TANF for multiple siblings in their care, they can choose to exclude one or more siblings as a “recipient" if they have income or including that sibling would cause TANF ineligibility.
EXAMPLE  Heka, a grandparent is the caretaker for their two grandchildren, Jorga and Malcolm, who are half-siblings. Jorga receives Social Security Survivors Benefits. Heka can choose not to include Jorga in the assistance unit and not count them in the needs.

EXAMPLE A child, Mohammad is living with their half-sibling, Liam and Liam's mother, Astrid, who is not the parent of Mohammad and has no financial responsibility for this child. Astrid is working and has income. Astrid can choose to apply for non-needy TANF for Mohammad and not include Liam in the needs, since including herself and Liam would cause the assistance unit to be over income for TANF.

  1. Child in common of unmarried parents:
    Unmarried parents who live together may choose to exclude their common child if either or both parents are a TANF or SFA recipient.
EXAMPLE Olivia and her two children, Sofia and Luka, get TANF and live with the mothers' boyfriend, Artem who is not the father of the children. Olivia gives birth to her and Artem's child, Ana. Since Olivia is a TANF recipient and not married to Artem, she can choose whether or not to include the Ana in the assistance unit. If we include Ana, we must include Artem. If Artem has income or resources, it may be the best for the household to not include their common child, Ana.

NOTE: In this example, if Artem and common child Ana are added to the TANF assistance unit, they are all recipients. If Artem gains employment, the household may choose to exclude Artem and Ana from the TANF assistance unit, while Olivia and her other two children, Sofia and Luka continue receiving a TANF grant. 

EXAMPLE Two unrelated TANF families get assistance and live together. Household 1 is Kelly and her two children, Jacob and Althea. Household 2 is Adriel and his two children, Abigail and Isabella. Kelly and Adriel welcome their newborn, Samuel, and now have a child in common, who they want to exclude from being on assistance. Because both parents are recipients of assistance, they do not have the option to exclude their newborn, Samuel, and remain in separate assistance units. They need to become one TANF household (one assistance unit) as required under WAC 388-408-0030.
EXAMPLE Alex and their significant other, Cam, their child, Kimani and Cam's child, Camilla, apply for TANF. Nobody is active on TANF or SFA. Cam applies for TANF for himself and his child, Camilla only. He doesn't want to include the common child, Kimani, because Alex gets UC and can provide for their child. As an applicant, Cam doesn't have the choice to exclude their child Kimani. All four people are required to be in the assistance unit.

NOTE: In this example, if the entire household is eligible when we include Alex's income, the household can choose to exclude Alex and Kimani, as we can consider this a recipient assistance unit. If the family is eligible in the month of application, you can consider them as recipients and exclude the child, Kimani and co-parent, Alex before you issue benefits.

EXAMPLE Susan applies for assistance for herself and her two children from a previous marriage. She lives with her husband Doug and his child from a previous marriage - Timmy. The couple doesn't have a child in common. She doesn't want assistance for Doug or Timmy because he works and gets child support. Even though we can exclude Timmy from the AU because he is the other children's stepbrother, we must include Doug because he is the stepfather of Susan's two children. If we exclude Timmy, we would allocate some of Doug's earned income to Timmy. See INCOME - Allocation and Deeming.


  1. What happens when a TANF AU with an optional household member has a change in circumstances?  

Families can always change the status of optional TANF AU members.  In some cases, removing the optional AU member from the TANF AU may increase the benefits to the family. 

EXAMPLE  Anita has no income and is unable to work.  She is getting a 3-person, needy TANF grant for herself and her two nephews.  Anita is later approved for SSA disability benefits of $1,080 a month.
  • If Anita remains on the AU as needy, the TANF closes for the entire household due to excess countable income.
  • However, Aunt Anita is an optional AU member so we can opt her off the TANF grant. Her income would not be counted and she can continue to get a non-needy TANF grant for her two nephews.  
EXAMPLE 20-year old, Sally is getting a non-needy TANF grant for her minor sibling Kelly after their parents pass away. After a few months, Kelly starts receiving $1,200 in SSA survivor benefits.
  • Kelly is not an optional AU member so we budget the SSA benefits when determining TANF eligibility, this family would be over the income limit for TANF.
EXAMPLE Alonso is receiving a non-needy TANF for his 17-year-old niece Grace.  Grace turns 18 years old in May. Her demographics screen indicates she is scheduled to graduate high school in June of the same year. We must determine if Grace will complete high school in June:
  • Grace is not an optional AU member.  Send a request for information letter requesting verification that Grace is still attending full time high school and making satisfactory progress.
  • If Grace is no longer in school, she is no longer eligible for TANF, with no eligible minors in the AU, the TANF would terminate.

Worker Responsibilities - WAC 388-408-0030

  1. If we don't have to include a child in the AU under WAC 388-408-0015, give the caretaker relative, guardian, or custodian the choice whether or not they'd like to include the child in the TANF/SFA AU.
  2. Explain to the household that the child cannot receive TANF/SFA in a separate assistance unit.
EXAMPLE Aunt Buella applies for TANF for her niece, Dorothy and nephew, Sammi who are cousins. Aunt Buella  doesn't want assistance. Set up a two-person assistance unit for Dorothy and Sammi.
EXAMPLE Married couple, Kennedy and Adhel apply as needy relatives for their two grandsons, Andrey and Markese, who are cousins to each other. Even though Kennedy claims to be the caretaker of one child and Adhel claims to be the caretaker of the other, we must include the two children, Andrey and Markese in the same assistance unit.
EXAMPLE Aslyn applies for TANF for their child, Jana and nephew, Gavin. Since Ashlyn is the caretaker relative for both children and is the parent of one, include all three people in the same assistance unit.
EXAMPLE Grandparent Terri and two grandchildren, Tristan and Chloe receive a three-person grant. Her husband, Charles starts to get retirement benefits. We allocate $950 of the retirement benefits to the assistance unit because Charles is financially responsible for Terri. Because the grandparents aren't financially responsible for their grandchildren, don't terminate assistance due to the excess income. Remove Terri from the grant and continue assistance for the grandchildren, Tristan and Chloe.
EXAMPLE Te-Hina receives a three-person grant for herself, her daughter, Nika and nephew, Aman. Te-Hina starts working and has monthly gross earnings of $2,100. This makes the household over income. Review options to remove Te-Hina and Nika from the grant to continue cash assistance (one-person grant) for her nephew, Aman. When the income of an optional assistance unit member reduces the grant payment to a level which is less than what the other assistance members would get if the individual with income were not included. Inform the household of the option to request termination from the assistance unit for the member with income. By making this choice, the household would get more cash. If the person with income is an adult, this also preserves their time-limited TANF eligibility. Add the following free form text to the ACES notice: "Your family may be better off financially if you stop getting a cash grant for (Name of person receiving the income). To find out, call the number listed above."
EXAMPLE Sampson gets a three-person grant with daughter, Nikkiesha and nephew, Youssouf. Sampson starts working and has gross earnings of $1,000 per month. When we budget the income, the assistance unit is eligible for a grant of $206. However, if Sampson chooses to end TANF for self and child, Nikkiesha, they could get a one-person grant of $450 for nephew, Youssouf and preserve TANF eligibility under the 60-month lifetime limit.
NOTE: There are some valid values you can't enter in the Financial Responsibility field. ACES enters these values after you finalize the action. Make sure that all the following conditions are true before you use the non-member valid value [NM]: - The person isn't part of the AU; - The person isn't financially responsible for anyone in the AU; and - We don't have to count the person's income or resources when we determine the AU's eligibility or benefits.

Clarifying Information - WAC 388-408-0060

  1. For justice involved individual, reference the following Desk Aids:
    1. Program Options for Inmates (Staff use only)
    2. Desk Aid - Sentencing Alternatives – Offenders with Minor Children (Staff use only)
  2. For information on ABD case processing, reference Aged, Blind, or Disabled Cash Assistance (ABD) | DSHS ( in the ACES Manual.
  3. If an AU with a disabled adult is over income for TANF because of a child’s income, the disabled adult may be eligible for ABD cash. We don’t allocate the child’s income to the parent because the child isn’t financially responsible for the parent. See WAC 388-450-0100
EXAMPLE A disabled parent applies for TANF for herself and her daughter. The daughter gets a monthly SSA death benefit of $650. This income makes the AU ineligible for TANF. Since the client is disabled and ineligible for TANF, she may be eligible for ABD cash. The daughter is not in the AU and the death benefit is not allocated to the AU.

ACES Procedures

See Assistance Unit (AU)