FAQs - Diversionary Assistance

Authored By: Virginia Poverty Law Center


What is diversionary assistance?

During the TANF application process, a needy family, which includes a child who is a U.S. citizen or eligible immigrant and at least one adult relative of the child, has the option to receive up to 120 days of TANF payments in one lump sum. The purpose of this "diversionary assistance" is to make a one-time payment in an amount larger than the monthly TANF check available to families so that they can solve a one-time emergency and thereby avoid the need for ongoing monthly TANF payments. The choice to accept a lump sum diversionary assistance payment instead of monthly TANF checks is entirely voluntary.

As a condition of receiving diversionary assistance, an applicant must give up his or her TANF eligibility for 1.33 days for each day of benefits received. For example, a diversionary payment equal to 120 days of ongoing TANF payments will result in 160 days of ineligibility for TANF.

When is a "child" too old for his or her family to qualify for diversionary assistance?

To qualify for diversionary assistance a "child" must be under age 18, unless he or she is a full time student in high school or an education or training program that is the equivalent of high school. A full time student, who is 18 years old and will graduate from high school or an equivalent education or training program before the month of his or her 19th birthday, is considered to be a "child" for purposes of establishing a family's eligibility for diversionary assistance.

Which immigrants qualify for diversionary assistance?

Most legal immigrants who entered the United States before August 22, 1996, and most immigrants admitted to the United States on or after August 22, 1996, for humanitarian purposes (refugees, people granted asylum, and a few other related categories) are eligible for diversionary assistance.

However, most lawful permanent residents (LPRs) who entered the United States on or after August 22, 1996, are ineligible for diversionary assistance until they have lived in the United States for five years after entering the country, become U.S. citizens, or can be credited with 40 quarters of work.

When is a family "needy"?

TANF payments vary by family size and locality. To be financially eligible for diversionary assistance a family must have monthly income, after certain deductions, below the maximum monthly TANF payment available to families of the same size in the locality where the family lives.

There are also limits on the value of the assets that a family can own and still qualify for TANF or diversionary assistance; however, families are allowed to own a home and surrounding property and savings worth up to $5,000. The rules concerning car ownership are complicated. Effective July 2003, families will also be allowed to own one car of any value; however, currently, families may only own cars with limited value.

The Virginia Department of Social Services (DSS) has an online screening tool at  that is useful in determining whether a family is sufficiently "needy" that it might qualify for TANF or diversionary assistance. Based on the locality where a family lives, DSS's screening tool will also provide the name and address of the local agency where a family must go to apply for assistance.

How often can a family apply for diversionary assistance?

A family can apply for diversionary assistance only once in a sixty month period.

Must families comply with "good conduct" requirements to qualify for diversionary assistance?

No. The requirements that apply to monthly TANF payments concerning child support cooperation, school attendance, childhood vaccinations, drug felony convictions, children born while their mother was receiving TANF, and parental work requirements do not apply to diversionary assistance.

Does diversionary assistance count toward any time limit on the receipt of monthly TANF payments?

No. Families that choose to receive diversionary assistance are ineligible for monthly TANF payments for 1.33 days for each day of TANF benefits included in their diversionary assistance payment. For example, a diversionary payment equal to 120 days of ongoing TANF payments will result in 160 days of ineligibility for monthly TANF payments. But receiving diversionary assistance does not count toward any time limit on the total number of months that a family can receive monthly TANF payments.

Last Review and Update: Dec 11, 2002