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Part 3 Time Limit and Work Program Rules and Exemptions


DTA made a number of changes and suspended a number of rules during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Guide notes in red when a rule was suspended during the pandemic.

Produced by Deborah Harris, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed March 9 2022
Produced by Deborah Harris and Betsy Gwin, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed December 2022

What is the time limit rule and when does your time limit start over?

The time limit rule was suspended during the pandemic. DTA Online Guide Transmittal, 2020-49 (June 29, 2020) (TAFDC: Temporary Changes for TAFDC Work Program Required Clients). The time limit rules below and described later in this Guide are the rules before the pandemic.

Certain families are limited to a total of 24 months of TAFDC benefits in any five-year period. You are eligible for a new five-year period and 24 months of additional benefits five years after your last five-year period started. 106 C.M.R. § 703.120.

The 24-month time limit runs only during months the family is not exempt (see Who is exempt from the time limit and Work Program?) and

  • receives a TAFDC cash grant for a full calendar month, or
  • is considered a TAFDC family, but is not receiving a cash grant because the benefit amount is less than $10 a month.

The 24-month time limit clock (but not the five-year period) stops running if the family stops receiving TAFDC or becomes exempt from the time limit. See Who is exempt from the time limit and Work Program? If the family goes back on TAFDC, the 24-month clock starts running again. DTA will add the new months to the full calendar months already used before the family stopped receiving assistance or became exempt.

The 24-month time limit clock also runs against the children of a parent who received assistance. But sometimes a child can get a waiver if another relative or parent has custody or guardianship, or the parent who received assistance is dead, incarcerated, institutionalized, or incapacitated.

If you reach the time limit and still need TAFDC benefits, you may be able to get an extension, a domestic violence waiver, or an exemption. See

Advocacy Reminders

  • Check to see if you are eligible for an additional 24 months of benefits because your five-year period has started over.
  • A month counts against your 24-month time limit only if you received TAFDC as a nonexempt household for the full calendar month. If your case was closed for part of a month or you were exempt for part of a month, that month does not count.
  • You have the right to challenge DTA’s calculation of your time clock. See What are your rights if DTA will not give you benefits or reduces or stops your benefits?
  • A month counts towards your 24-month time limit if you are a TAFDC participant and you are receiving a very small grant, you are receiving no grant (because of the $10 minimum rule), or you are receiving a grant only because your child support is assigned to the state. See What happens if your child’s father (or mother) pays child support? You may decide you are better off closing your case so that you do not use up your 24 months. If you close your case, you should still be eligible for MassHealth and SNAP (food stamps). See Can you get full-time care? on eligibility for child care after your case closes.
  • DTA says that in a two-parent family both parents have the same five-year period. 106 C.M.R. § 703.120(A)(8). This is change from prior policy. See DTA Operations Memo 2011-53 (Nov. 22, 2011). Email [email protected] if this is a problem.

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