Understanding more about government assistance ensures that you’ll know where to turn if you ever need financial aid for the basic stuff you need.
If you don’t make enough money to cover your basic expenses, there are safeguards in place to help you make ends meet. The U.S. Government has several programs that can assist you with paying for necessities like food, healthcare, and even housing.
If paying for food is your main concern, there are a couple of programs to help you out.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, (once more commonly known as food stamps) is meant to offer individuals and families access to funds to help pay for groceries each month. SNAP eligibility depends on your household and its income.
With SNAP, you’ll be given a special debit card preloaded with your qualified amount. Each month, funds will be added to the card, which you can use at grocery stores, convenience stores, and in some cases even farmer’s markets. SNAP only works for certain food and products, so other items will still need to be paid for out of your pocket. Still, it’s a great way to ease the burden of your food budget, especially when paying for produce, meat, dairy, and other nutritionally dense foods to keep you healthy.
If you don’t qualify for SNAP, you might qualify for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC. It’s specially designed to benefit women who are pregnant, who have just had a baby, and children up to age five. WIC helps to pay for nutritional basics like baby formula, milk, produce, and cereal. WIC can also give you access to counseling and services for new moms and children.
Medicaid is a program designed to provide coverage for individuals and families that cannot afford health insurance. Medicaid eligibility is determined by household income and other factors, such as age, pregnancy, or disability. According to the Medicaid website, over 65 million people are covered by Medicaid, making it the largest source of medical coverage in the country.
If you’re eligible for Medicaid, you’ll indicate that as your health insurance when you require medical care. Not all providers accept Medicaid, so it’s important to verify before you receive services. Medicaid can also help pay for prescription drugs and mental health services. If you don’t qualify for Medicaid but you have children, they could qualify for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. CHIP covers kids in families who make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but still require assistance to help pay for their kids’ insurance until age 19. CHIP doesn’t cover as much as Medicaid does, but it’s still a good option to help relieve some of the burden of paying for health insurance for families.
Illustration: Chelsea Miller
Most of the assistance the government offers for housing applies to those who rent their homes. If you can’t afford rent and you meet eligibility requirements, for example, you might qualify for the Housing Choice Voucher Program. It’s basically a voucher paid directly to the landlord each month to subsidize the cost of rent. The landlord then charges tenants the remaining amount, making rent more affordable for low income families.
Most of the government services that help with housing require you to fulfill specific eligibility requirements. There are services for rural rentals and operational farm tenants, for example, or government-owned properties that benefit the homeless or very low-income individuals.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, is sometimes more commonly known as welfare. It’s designed to support families who can’t afford basic needs but are on a path to self-sufficiency. A state-run program, TANF offers cash-assistance to the families who need it most. TANF can also offer help for child care, transportation, and even employment training.
Each state determines its own eligibility requirements and TANF assistance, but in general its designed to benefit families with children. Each state also decides how to spend TANF funds from the federal government, which usually means a combination of cash and assistance.
If you’ve lost your job through no fault of your own, you may qualify for short-term Unemployment Benefits through your state. It can help you pay bills and stay afloat as you look for a new job. If you’re permanently unable to work due to an injury or disability, you can apply for Disability Benefits. Disability benefits are paid through the Social Security Administration. This program provides cash assistance for people who are injured or disabled and are expected to stop working for a year or more. You’ll need to provide medical records and employment information to prove your eligibility, but it can help if you’re physically unable to work on a long-term basis.
No one ever plans to lose their job, fall short on rent, or not be able to afford health insurance. But, if you need assistance, it’s important to know that there are services available to you. Knowing where to turn when you’re struggling can give you the tools you need to get back on your feet.
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