About Work First

North Carolina law provides for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program development by local county governments. The law refers to counties as standard or electing. Standard counties operate the state’s Work First program based on the policies written in the Work First Manual, while electing counties have additional flexibility in program design. Through NC legislation seven electing counties have been given additional flexibility in program design: Beaufort, Caldwell, Catawba, Lenoir, Lincoln, Macon and Wilson.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) is responsible for establishing, supervising and monitoring the Work First program. At present all services and benefits are delivered by county departments of social services/agencies in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. 

Electing counties develop a county Work First block grant plan, including descriptions of strategies to achieve the measurable statewide outcome goals and performance measures as described in the county’s plan. Electing county plans must involve a broad range of public, private and nonprofit groups.

Standard counties maintain required protocols and policies for services on file at the local county department of social services/agencies for state fiscal year monitoring. All counties (standard and electing) are monitored to ensure compliance with program requirements.

Work First cash assistance is provided primarily for children. In most counties biological or adoptive parents and stepparents may apply for assistance for a child and must be included in the payment for the family, unless they are disqualified from the program. Other relatives and individuals, regardless of their relationship, who have legal custody or guardianship of children may apply for assistance on their behalf but will not be included in the payment to the family. Work First cash assistance is not provided to pregnant women without other dependent children.


Children must be age 17 or younger at application. Children may receive Work First benefits through the month that they turn 18. Children who are age 18, in high school and expected to graduate by the month of their 19th birthday, can receive through the month they graduate from high school.

Minor Parents

Emancipated minor parents are considered adults and treated as such for Work First. Minor parents (under age 18), unless emancipated, must:

  • Stay in school to complete their high school education or its equivalent. If a minor parent has not completed high school or has not received a GED or is suspended or expelled from school, the minor parent must participate in an appropriate educational training or other work activity.
  • Live with a parent or in another adult-supervised setting approved by the county director or the director’s designee. Payments will be made to an adult as a protective payee and not to the minor parent.

Work First Services

Legislation requires county departments of social services to provide a wide range of services for families with income at or below 150 or 200 percent of the federal poverty level if the family meets the eligibility criteria. This is an important service in helping families remain off assistance. It is often a critical source of services for helping families who may have never received assistance. Services may include, but aren't limited to, employment-related services, transportation to and from work, short-term child care, post-employment short-term skills training and child and family enrichment services.

In addition, to assist non-custodial parents meet their child support obligations, county departments have the option to provide employment-related services for the non-custodial parent when that parent's income is at or below 150 or 200 percent of the federal poverty level, the child is a recipient of Work First cash assistance, and the applicant/recipient meets the other eligibility criteria.

Work First (WFB)

All adults who are included in the assistance payment must have a Mutual Responsibility Agreement (MRA)/Outcome Plan that requires the individuals to work or participate in work-related activities. These adults must complete all requirements on their agreement each month before receiving Work First benefits, unless good cause is established.

Work First Benefits (WFB) mirrors the working world, where individuals “work first” and receive payment for employment afterwards.

This means families receive their assistance payments after providing documentation showing they have complied with the requirements of their MRA/Outcome Plan, including both the Core Requirements and Plan of Action Requirements, or shown good cause for not complying.

Work First State Plans

2019-2022 Work First State Plan - AMENDMENT May 2022
2016-2019 Work First State Plan
Work Verification Plan: Effective September 2008