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Teen Parents: Your Rights Under Welfare Reform

Reviewed June, 2009

If you are under age 20 and pregnant or a parent, you must be in school full-time or have graduated from school. If you are under age 18 years, you must also meet special living arrangement rules. You still have a right to file your own application for TAFDC benefits without your parents, even if you live with them.

1. How do the school attendance rules work?

Unless you have graduated, if you are under 20 you must be in high school, middle or elementary school OR a in a full-time GED (high school equivalency) program of at least 20 hours per week. If your GED program is less than 20 hours a week, you may be asked to do community service or other training as well. This rule does not apply if you are within 60 days of turning age 20. You must be in school or a GED program at least 75% of the time (15 hours out of a 20 hour program) to be eligible for TAFDC benefits. If you need help getting into school, ask your DTA worker. The worker is supposed to help you find a program and help you get day care and pay for transportation costs to school and day care. But, you cannot be sanctioned if you are not in school because of lack of child care or because of domestic or teen dating violence (like where your current or former boyfriend is stalking or has threatened you).

2. Are there good reasons for absence from school?

Yes. You can have good cause for absences due to lack of transportation or child care, bad weather, a health problem, an emergency or crisis you need to attend to. If you do not have good cause and you are absent more than 25% of the time, you will first lose about $92 of you TAFDC grant for 30 days. After 30 days, you will lose the entire TAFDC grant. Your SNAP/Food Stamps and MassHealth should continue.

3. How does the living arrangment rule work?

If you are under age 18 and not married, you must:

  • Live with your parents, or
  • Live with another relative (related to you or your baby) who is age 20 or over, or
  • Live with a legal guardian, or
  • Be a "graduate of a DSS independent living program," or
  • Be 17 years old and meet special "waiver" rules (see below).

If you do not meet one of the above, you may be asked to live in a teen living program — if one is available. If you are under 18 and married, you must be living with your spouse to be exempt.


18- and 19- year old teens (and teens within 60 days of turning age 18) do not need to live with parents, relatives or in group homes. But you do need to meet the school rules above.

4. Who are the relatives you can live with?

Teens still meet the living arrangement rules if living with an aunt, uncle, grandparent, older sibling or other relative who is age 20 or older. You can also live with a former stepparent—like your father's ex-wife or the paternal grandparents of your child (but this does not include living with the child's father if you are unmarried). Your relatives do not have to get legal guardianship. If you live with an unrelated adult, that person does need to be legal guardian.


The income of relatives or legal guardians does not count in calculating your TAFDC grant.

5. What if you can't live with your parents?

If you are under 18 and can't live with your mother or father, tell DTA. A teen specialist under contract with DSS will contact you and look at whether you can continue with your parents, in a teen living program, or on your own. You should not be forced to live at home if you fear abuse, if your parent(s) refuse to support you, there is substance abuse in the home, if the home has code violations, OR if there are any other "extraordinary circumstances." The teen specialist’s job is to find out why you cannot live at home and make a recommendation Be sure to tell her ALL the reasons. You can also ask your school guidance counselor or other professionals who know you to call or write the teen specialist. If the teen specialist agrees you cannot go home, DTA may find you a teen living program to go or advise you of the waiver rules for 17 year olds.


Teens who are 17 years old and cannot live with your parents can request a special "waiver" to live on their own if: a) in a good living situation, b) in school full-time in good standing, c) have stable child care and d) are participating in a teen parenting program.


If you are within 60 days of turning age 18, you do not need a waiver and are exempt from the rule.

6. How is Parental Income counted?

If you are under age 18 and live at home, your parents' income above 200% of the poverty level counts in deciding how much TAFDC you and your baby get. This level is currently $1,990/month for two persons. If your parents refuse to tell DTA their income, you may be denied TAFDC but you can still apply for SNAP/Food Stamps and MassHealth.


Your parent’s income does not count once you turn age 18. The income of non-parent relatives you live with does not count —regardless of your age.

7. Challenging denial of benefits:

If your TAFDC is being cut, you have a the right to an advance written notice.

calendar icon courtesy of graphicadvocacy.org

If you ask for a hearing within 10 days of the date of notice, your benefits should continue during the appeal.

You have a right to bring in any new evidence about why you cannot live at home. If DTA says you missed too much school, bring to the hearing any information that explains why you missed classes. You have a right to see your TAFDC case record, including school attendance records and/or reports from the DSS contracted teen specialist. You have the right to make copies of any documents in your file, to ask questions of DTA worker or the teen specialist at the hearing and to bring a friend or advocate to assist you.

Call your local Legal Services for more advice or legal representation. You can also contact the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy: 1-617- 482-9122 for advice and referrals.

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