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Building Assets for Survivors of Domestic Violence > Access to Federal Benefits for Domestic Violence Survivors

"Increasingly, federal agencies are recognizing the importance of developing and implementing policies, procedures and staff training to ensure that domestic violence victims can safely access federal benefits programs."

SAFETY ALERT: If you are in danger, please call 911, your local hotline, or (in the U.S.) the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224. Please review these safety tips.

Access to Federal Benefits for Domestic Violence Survivors 

Background on other federal benefits for domestic violence survivors 

A number of public programs for low-income families exist that could be helpful to survivors of domestic violence. These federal programs are often administered at the state level, and families can go through local agencies, such as their local AFI agency, to apply. These benefits include federal tax credits, assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), the special feeding program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), public housing through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and services through Head Start. Increasingly, federal agencies are recognizing the importance of developing and implementing policies, procedures and staff training to ensure that domestic violence victims can safely access these federal benefits programs.

Federal Tax Credits

The Earned Income Tax Credit (see the fact sheet on “Helping Domestic Violence Survivors Claim the EITC”), as a refundable tax credit, is one of the most helpful tax credits available to low-income families, but there are also other options available. 

Other tax policies designed to support working families with children include the Child Tax Credit (CTC), Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) and the dependent exemption. While this assistance is extremely important to many low-income families, they must navigate a complicated set of rules to take full advantage of the credits.

Other Federal Benefits

  • TANF is the nation’s cash assistance welfare program for low-income families, and can serve as an important economic bridge out of an abusive relationship for survivors of domestic violence. TANF benefits include cash assistance to help pay for basic needs, employment training, family education and child care. States determine the eligibility criteria for the program, which can range from under 50 percent to 200 percent of the federal poverty line. TANF programs will usually ask applicants whether domestic violence is an issue for them, and if so, whether they need additional support, protections, referrals or waivers of certain program requirements to ensure that they remain safe while participating in TANF.  

  • Child support and TANF are related programs as, according to Federal law, when a custodial parent applies for TANF, he or she must open a child support case and also assign his or her child support rights to the state. Most domestic violence survivors are interested in having child support orders enforced if this can be done safely. Child support can be an important source of economic support to a survivor who has left an abusive relationship. When it is too dangerous to pursue child support, TANF agencies can provide good cause waivers so survivors can still receive TANF assistance.

  • Domestic violence survivors can also access services through Head Start, which provides grants to local agencies to provide child development services for low-income children ages birth through five, to promote school readiness. Children in families with gross income at or below the federal poverty line are primarily eligible for the program. Local Head Start offices can be searched for here:

  • Low income domestic violence victims can also access housing assistance through HUD’s Public Housing Program or rental assistance programs. Local public housing agencies ( provide assistance with housing vouchers or applying to public housing. HUD sets income eligibility criteria based on the median income for each county or metropolitan area. Some local public housing programs provide priority housing to domestic violence survivors who need to relocate due to abuse, and all must provide information to public housing recipients of the protections available to them if they are or become victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.  Families can access HUD’s website to search for low-rent private rentals (

  • Food assistance through the SNAP program is also available to eligible low-income survivors of domestic violence (with gross monthly income of 130 percent of the federal poverty line or below). When applying for SNAP benefits, the amount owed in child support can be deducted from the income calculation, as can a deduction for dependent care. The SNAP program also has some employment requirements, particularly for able-bodied adults without dependents. These participants can only get SNAP benefits for 3 months within a 36-month period if they are not employed or engaged in employment readiness programs[1].

  • WIC provides Federal grants to States for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk. Applicants are eligible if their gross income is at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty line. Survivors can access more information on benefits, eligibility criteria, and how to apply for WIC at

How can domestic violence agencies and AFI partner to provide access to Federal benefits?

Both domestic violence and AFI agencies can connect their clients to a variety of other federal benefits. AFI agencies often have many partnerships with community organizations that provide assistance with accessing public benefits.

One AFI site that has had success promoting access to public benefits is the City of San Antonio, who has partnered with the local United Way and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites to provide one-stop “super sites”. There, participants can obtain assistance with filing for the EITC and other tax credits, learn about other government benefits, as well as enroll in financial education and learn about asset-building programs like IDAs. For more information about this partnership, see the case study on “Linking Asset Building to Public Benefits and Work Supports” at

Additional Resources

This is one in a series of fact sheets on asset-building and Domestic Violence Survivors produced by the Assets for Independence Resource Center. For more information about AFI services, visit the resource center website at or contact the center at 1-866-778-6037 or via email at To find an AFI grantee near you, go to   To search for domestic violence programs by state go to: 

For more information about the safety challenges of survivors or for guidance on developing safety protocols contact the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence at 1-800-537-2238. For information about how to partner with local or state domestic violence programs, contact the National Network to End Domestic Violence at 202-543-5566. Survivors in need of assistance can also call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233. 


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