By Oriana Farnham 

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program provides income support to help Maine families with children meet their needs. Two recent changes to the TANF program make the program more accessible and provide parents with more higher education opportunities. Parents who want to pursue job training or an associate’s or bachelor’s degree should ask Fedcap about these options.  

Oriana Farnham

Change 1: More support for education and training started October 1st 

In 2022, a group of parents joined with Maine Equal Justice to pass a bill that opens more doors to higher education in TANF. Education and training for parents in ASPIRE and the Parents as Scholars (PAS) program can open doors to better jobs, better pay and hours, and economic stability for Maine families. But even though many TANF participants are very interested in higher education and job training, not enough of them are hearing about these opportunities or being helped to apply for and receive all the available benefits.  

If you’re a parent who receives TANF, here’s how you can ask Fedcap to help you take advantage of these new opportunities:  

  • You can get help with barriers to an education or training program. Now you can tell Fedcap if you want their help applying to an education or training program (like at University of Southern Maine, Southern Maine Community College, other colleges or universities, or an online course) and applying for Parents as Scholars. 
  • You have the option to go to school part time in Parents as Scholars. Parents have to balance family needs with their education and career goals, and going to school full time isn’t an option for everyone.  
  • If you are part of Parents as Scholars, you can get more help with tuition, school fees, books, and internet costs. You can minimize debt while pursuing education and training. 

Parents interested in higher education should ask Fedcap about the Parents as Scholars (PAS) program to take advantage of these opportunities. If you have any questions or can’t access these changes, contact Maine Equal Justice through our website (maineequaljustice.org)  or by calling (207) 626-7058.  

Options for parents with education credentials from other countries 

Many immigrant families in Maine rely on TANF while waiting to receive work authorization. But when you receive your work authorization, you don’t have to go straight to a job. You should tell Fedcap if you want to pursue job training or higher education before looking for a job. In most cases, you can get support from TANF, ASPIRE, or Parents as Scholars while you participate in job training or college classes, even if you have your work permit.  

If you have college credits from a country outside the U.S., Fedcap may ask you to get those credits “translated.” This will help you and Maine employers understand how your credentials translate to American higher education standards, and it might help you transfer credits to an American college or get a better job. Fedcap should direct you to resources to get those credits translated at no cost to you.   

If your credentials are the equivalent of an American bachelor’s degree, Fedcap may say you can’t pursue higher education in Maine. If this happens, or if you have any questions about this process, please contact Maine Equal Justice through our website (maineequaljustice.org). 

Change 2: Higher asset limit and better access to TANF started October 15th 

In 2023, Maine parents advocated to pass a law that allows TANF families to increase their savings. As of October 15, 2023, the asset test for TANF is now $10,000 per household, and one vehicle is exempted for every licensed driver.  

This means that families can save for unexpected costs and long-term needs without fear of losing their income support through TANF. By increasing the asset limit from $2,000 to $10,000, Maine families will be able to build their savings to create lasting economic independence. 

Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) should be applying the $10,000 asset test to all TANF applicants and participants. If you have any questions or can’t access these changes, contact Maine Equal Justice (maineequaljustice.org/contact-us/). 

Lift all families 

These changes were built on the experiences and leadership of our friends, family, and neighbors who have low income, and the leadership of TANF participants who are working to create a better TANF program than the one they have experienced. We’re so excited to celebrate this opportunity to work together to improve TANF so it can move more Mainers toward long-term economic security, strengthening communities across our state.