"Alternative Aid:" A Short-Term Alternative to TANF

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Help for an emergency that prevents you
from getting or keeping a job

This is an important program for low-income working families – but many don’t know about it. 

What Does Alternative Aid (AA) Do?

It helps families with children who are not on TANF but who have an emergency.  The emergency must prevent you from getting or keeping a job.  For example, the program will help you with:   car repairs, childcare, uniforms, housing-related emergencies, or even dental work if those things are needed to help you get or keep a job. 

How Is Alternative Aid Paid?

Aid is given in the form of a voucher and can equal up to three months worth of TANF benefits ($1,455 for a family of 3).   

Who is eligible for Alternative Aid?

You’re eligible for Alternative Aid if you meet the asset and other non-income eligibility requirements for TANF (such as deprivation).  You must  have a job or you must be are looking for one. 

For example, looking at the chart below, if there are 3 people in your family and your gross income is less than $2,227, (133% of the Federal Poverty Level) you may be eligible for Alternative Aid.

Family Size

Gross Monthly Income*

2 $1,766
3 $2,227
4 $2,688
5 $3,149
6 $3,610

* If you get child support, deduct the first $50 from your income before checking the amounts on this chart.

The best way to find out if you are eligible is to apply

How much help can I get?

The amount of help you get depends on how many people are in your family.  Here are the maximum limits on how much help you can get:

Family Size

Alternative Aid up to:

2 $1,089
3 $1,455
4 $1,833
5 $2,199
6 $2,568

The amount you actually get depends on how much other income you have.  Once you are eligible, your earned income and the first $50 you get in child support don’t count when figuring how much help you can get.  And remember, Alternative Aid doesn’t come as a cash benefit.  It comes in the form of vouchers for services or items that your family needs.

Here’s an example of how Alternative Aid works:

Susan needs Alternative Aid to replace the engine in her car so that she can get to work. She has two children.  Susan gets child support of $250 a month and wages of $1,500 a month.

First, let’s see if she is eligible.  The Program’s monthly eligibility limit for her family of three is $2,227.  The program will count only $200 of her child support and the full $1,500 of her wages putting her below the eligibility limit for a family of 3. So, she is eligible.

Second,let’s see how much help she can get. The maximum TANF benefit for her family of 3 would be $485 a month.  This means that the most Alternative Aid that she could get is $1,455 ($485 x 3 months = $1,455). 

Next,let’s see what her benefit will actually be.  To do this we deduct her “countable” income from that maximum amount of help she can get.  At this point, the program will ignore her wages entirely.  It will also ignore $50 of her child support.  That leaves only $200 a month in “countable income.”  We deduct this $200 from the maximum of $1,455, and find that she can get $1,255 in help.

Can families with high housing costs qualify for more AA? 

Yes.  Families may be eligible for additional help if they have high housing costs.  Families on TANF with high housing costs may qualify for up to an additional $200 a month as a “special housing needs” payment.  Since families receiving AA can get up to 3 times the monthly TANF benefit in a 12-month period, they may get an additional $600 because of their high housing costs.  Their rent or mortgage payments (including property taxes and insurance) must be equal to or more than 75% of their income. 

For example, the basic TANF grant for a family of 3 without special housing needsis $485 a month. A family receiving AA would qualify for three times that amount, or $1,455.  If that family is eligible for special housing payment, they would qualify for as much as 3 times $685, or up to a total of $2,055.

How often can I apply for Alternative Aid?

You can apply once every twelve months.

How long can I get Alternative Aid?

You can get Alternative Aid for the month in which you apply.  You can also use the benefit for the next two months.  For example, you get Alternative Aid of $1000 in April.  You only use $400.  You can use the $600 in May and June if you have another emergency.  Any funds not used in that time are no longer available.  You can apply for Alternative Aid again after 12 months.

If I got Alternative Aid, can I apply for TANF if I still need help?

Yes, if you still need help after receiving Alternative Aid, you can apply for TANF.  If you apply for TANF within 3 months of getting Alternative Aid, you will have to repay the amount that you received.  BUT you can repay it by having it deducted from your TANF check a little at a time.  If you apply 3 or more months after you received Alternative Aid, you do not have to repay the Alternative Aid benefits.

What if I have reached the 60 month Time Limit for TANF benefits?

Families who have reached the 60 month life time limit for TANF benefits can still get Alternative Aid if they are otherwise eligible. 

Where do I apply for Alternative Aid?

You can apply at the DHHS office nearest to you. Use a TANF application.  Write on the application that you are applying for Alternative Aid.  You may also have to complete a form that says you understand the purpose of Alternative Aid.

How can I find out more about Alternative Aid?

  • Call Maine Equal Justice at 1-866-626-7059, ext. 205.
  • You can also read the Department of Health and Human Services rule related to the Alternative Aid program at:  http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/rules/10/144

March 2016

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