60 Month Lifetime Limit on FIP Benefits
The Family Investment Program (FIP) is what Iowa calls its Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or welfare program. A person can get FIP benefits for up to 60 months (5 years) in their lifetime unless the person is exempt from the 5-year limit due to a hardship. A person may ask for a six-month extension if he or she meets the hardship criteria. A person who qualifies may be able to get more than one'six-month extension.
What Counts Toward the 60 Month Limit?
Any month an adult head of household gets FIP benefits counts toward the 60-month limit. Also, under federal law, any TANF (welfare) payment a person gets in any state counts toward the 60 months. For any month that the FIP child lives with both parents and only one parent is on Supplemental Security Income (SSI), that month counts toward the 60-month limit. But, the 60-month limit does not apply if the FIP child lives with one parent and that parent is on SSI.
Example 1: A mom and her two children get FIP. The whole family will be ineligible when the mom has received FIP for 60 months.
Example 2: Dad and Mom are married and have two children. Mom is disabled and has been getting SSI. Dad does not get SSI. The family has received FIP since January of 2009. The family will be subject to the 60-month limit since one of the parents was on the FIP grant and not on SSI. If the family was only Mom and her two children, the family would not be subject to the 60-month limit since the children would be living with one parent and that parent is on SSI.
Which Household Members Can Receive Benefits Past the 60 Months?
In cases where the children do not live with their parents, only the adult relative becomes ineligible at the end of the 60-month period. FIP for the children may continue.
Example: Jack Doe gets FIP for himself and two grandchildren. At the end of the 60-month period, only Jack Doe will be removed from the grant. He may continue to receive FIP for his grandchildren.
Do I Have to Receive Benefits 60 Months in a Row to Reach the 60-month Limit?
The 60 month total does not have to be 60 months in a row. Any FIP benefits received after January 1, 1997 are counted toward the 60 months. Assistance received before January 1, 1997 is not counted. If a person gets FIP for part of a month, that month counts as a full month.
Any month a family did not get a FIP check does not count toward the 60 months. This includes when
- The entire FIP amount is suspended for the month and
- No FIP is issued for the month because the family was eligible for less than $10 in benefits;
FIP benefits received by a minor who is a parent and also living with an adult will not count toward the 60-month limit. Also, the months that certain relatives take care of a child but don’t get FIP for themselves do not count toward the 60-month limit.
Are There Exceptions to the 60-Month Limit?
A family may get FIP for more than 60 months if it qualifies for a hardship exemption. DHS defines "hardship" as things that prevent a family from being self-supporting. DHS takes into account a family's safety if FIP benefits are terminated. DHS won’t accept a request for hardship exemptions before the first day of the family's 59th month on FIP. This lets a family ask for a hardship exemption two months before they reach the 60-month limit.
Examples of hardship are: domestic violence, lack of employability, lack of suitable child care, medical or mental health issues, housing situations that make it difficult to work, substance abuse issues, and having a child whose circumstances require a parent to be in the home. The rules to decide whether to grant a hardship exemption should be applied to the family's circumstances at the time they apply for the hardship exemption. For example, if domestic violence took place when a family applied for the hardship exemption, the family may be able to get benefits for more than 60 months. But, if domestic violence took place three years ago and does not impact the family's ability to become self-sufficient, it may not meet the hardship criteria.
When a family with an adult who is without proper immigration status and not permitted to work reaches the end of their 60 months, the DHS rules say the family cannot get a FIP extension. Although the DHS rules do say this, Iowa Legal Aid has successfully argued that this rule violates the rights of United States citizen children in these households.
The last way to get benefits for more than 60 months is "other circumstances which prevent the family from becoming self-supporting." This is a very broad provision. It may be used to ask for a hardship exemption if a family does not fit into any other category, but believe that benefits should be continued.
How Do I Ask for an Exemption?
Fill out the "Request for FIP Beyond 60 Months" form. You can get the form at any DHS or Promise Jobs office. DHS should send you the form as you get closer to the 60 month limit.
You must provide proof of the hardship and the impact of hardship on your ability to leave FIP. For example, if you have experienced domestic violence, you could provide copies of police reports or protective orders. DHS should advise you about how to get the documents you need to prove your hardship, and if you ask, DHS must help you to get the documents if you are not able to get them on your own. Examples of proof are:
- Court, medical, criminal, child protective services, social services, psychological, or police records;
- Statements from professionals with knowledge of the hardship;
- Statements from vocational rehab or other job training professionals;
- Statements from other individuals with knowledge of the hardship. Note that statements from friends and relatives alone will likely not be sufficient, but could be used to support other evidence;
- Statements from domestic violence counselors. Living in a domestic violence shelter will not automatically qualify you for a hardship exemption, but would be considered strong evidence;
- Documents showing that you are applying for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration may not be enough but may be used to support other evidence.
If DHS asks you give them more information, they must ask you in writing and give you ten days to give them the information.
Important Note for Hardships Due to Domestic Violence
The "Request for FIP Beyond 60 Months" form does not give much detail about what is considered domestic violence. For FIP purposes, "domestic violence" means that someone in the family has been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty. Being “battered or subjected to extreme cruelty” includes
- Physical injury to a person or threats or attempts of physical injury that make a person fear for their safety right now;
- Sexual abuse;
- Sexual activity involving a dependent child;
- Forcing the caretaker relative of a dependent child to engage in nonconsensual sexual acts or activities;
- Threats or attempts of sexual abuse;
- Mental abuse;
- Neglect or deprivation of medical care.
When Do I Find Out if My Request is Granted?
Your income maintenance worker will look at the reasons you give for asking for an exemption. Your worker will determine if you should be exempt from the 60-month limit due to a hardship. The decision should be made no later than 30 days after DHS gets your written request.
If your request is granted, you will be eligible to receive benefits for six more months. There is no limit on the number of hardship exemptions a family may get over time. But, for each six-month extension, the family must negotiate and sign a new Family Investment Agreement (FIA).
If Your Request Is Denied, You Have the Right to Appeal
If your request for hardship exemption is denied, you have a right to appeal. You have 30 days to file an appeal with the local office. If you file the appeal within 10 days and request that your benefits continue, your benefits will continue until DHS issues a final decision. You may have to pay back those benefits if you end up losing the appeal.
Know When Your Benefits Will End and Think About What You Will Do
Under the law, most households will be denied FIP payments when the 60-month limit is reached. This could have very serious results for children and adults with little other than food stamps to support themselves. It is very important to know when you will be reaching the 60-month limit. If you believe you need continued benefits and would meet one of the hardship exemptions, make sure you apply and send in supporting documents when you reach the 59th month. Asking for the exemption as soon as possible helps make sure you will have enough time to find out if you will be able to continue to get benefits. It is a good idea to check with your income maintenance worker to see how many months of benefits you have used and how many you have left.
How to Get Help
If you are having problems with your FIP benefits or have questions about the 60-month limit, contact Iowa Legal Aid. Iowa Legal Aid can help you file an application for a hardship exemption or help you appeal a denial of your hardship exemption. Also, if you need help negotiating a new Family Investment Agreement, you should call Iowa Legal Aid to ask for assistance.
To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid, call 1-800-532-1275 from 9-11 am or 1:30-3:30 pm Monday through Friday, except Thursday afternoon. If you are age 60 or over, call the Legal Hotline for Older Iowans at 800-992-8161 for help. You can apply in person at one of our regional offices. You can also apply online using the Iowa Legal Aid Online Application Interview.
If Iowa Legal Aid can’t help you, you can use www.iowafindalawyer to find an attorney.
Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans.