An Overview of Assistance Programs

You may need the help of a government assistance program if you have a very low income and struggle to pay all your financial obligations on time.

An assistance program may give you a temporary solution to your monetary problems, so that you can work on improving your home situation and quality of life. Most of these organizations offer more than benefits, such as courses on becoming financially independent and how to successfully apply for a job.

These programs have many different components, and the application process and eligibility requirements are slightly different for each one. As a result, you may find these comprehensive guidelines helpful. We cover many different assistance programs, including SNAP, Medicaid, CHIP, Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, TANF, WIC and more.

What is SNAP?

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) aims to help low-income families pay for groceries and certain other food items.

Benefits are typically given to families via an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card, which operates like a debit card. The items that may be purchased with an EBT are restricted. For instance, cigarettes and alcohol are prohibited, as are certain hot foods.

To qualify, you must meet the programs income requirements. Depending on the state, your income must be less than or equivalent to a certain percentage on the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). Your local SNAP agency will also factor in the number of people in your family and how many of them are working.

Applications may be completed online, in person or by mail, though applying by mail typically takes the longest amount of time. Be sure to have proof of identity, income, and citizenship or legal presence available when you apply. Read more.

What is Medicaid?

Medicaid is a nationwide health insurance program for families and individuals with very low income. While many private insurance companies offer low monthly premiums, they usually come with extremely high deductibles and limited coverage. Medicaid, on the other hand, offers plans with very low deductibles and small monthly premiums. Some applicants are exempt from all out-of-pocket costs.

The most important eligibility requirement for Medicaid is your income level. Your total income includes the income of every family member living in your home. Other important factors include the number of adults and children in your family and whether you or another family member is pregnant or disabled.

If you are a legal resident of the U.S. but not a citizen, you may qualify for the program depending on the number of years you have been a resident.

During the application process, you will need to submit personal information about each family member, including their full names, birth dates, ages and Social Security Numbers (SSNs). The application may be completed in person, online or by mail depending on your state.

Applying online has become the most popular method because of its convenience, though applying in person may be better if your family situation is complicated or you have many questions about the program. Read more.

What is CHIP?

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) aims to cover the health expenses of children with parents who have low incomes. Parents do not necessarily have to qualify for Medicaid in order to qualify for CHIP. In fact, the program is designed to help parents who cannot qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private healthcare insurance.

Children must be 18 years of age or younger to qualify. The benefits for children are comprehensive, meaning their parents or guardians may not have to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses. In addition, Medicaid and CHIP are often grouped together in state programs. Read more.

What is the Section 8 housing program?

The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program assists low-income families by paying a portion of their rent. Oftentimes, families with low incomes are forced to live in substandard housing with unsafe and unsanitary conditions.

The Section 8 program helps these families move into better homes and improve their quality of life. While every state receives funds from the federal government for the program, individual Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) are responsible for setting the income eligibility requirements in their areas.

If you decide to apply, your income, household size, personal history, spending history and assets will all be analyzed by your local PHA. After you submit your application, your PHA will eventually notify you with your acceptance or denial decision. If you are accepted, you will be placed on a waiting list.

Some towns have extremely long waiting lists and other towns have closed their waiting lists indefinitely. If you reach the top of the list, you must undergo a second eligibility check and may then begin searching for homes within your jurisdiction. Read more.

What is TANF?

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program is designed to help low-income families for a certain amount of time. Its main goals are to help qualified parents or guardians care for their children in their own homes and gradually wean them off government assistance programs and other social security benefits.

To qualify, an applicant must have a child who is enrolled in high-school full time, though some applicants may qualify with children who are 18 years of age or younger. Pregnant women may also be eligible for benefits under the program, though certain limitations apply. Read more.

What are unemployment benefits?

Unemployment benefits are a form of monetary assistance for workers who recently lost their jobs. Only workers who were not at-fault for losing their jobs may qualify. In addition, you must have worked a certain amount of time and held a salaried position. You must also have an SSN.

Funds are given to qualified applicants through direct deposit with a special debit card, or through monthly unemployment checks. If you qualify for the program, you must agree to look for a new job in the meantime and update your unemployment agency when you are accepted for a new position. Read more.

What is WIC?

The Women’s Infants and Children Program (WIC) provides temporary assistance to mothers or expecting mothers with very low incomes. A woman may be eligible if she is pregnant, has a newborn or a child that is 5 years of age or younger.

Mothers who are breastfeeding or have a baby who does not yet eat solid foods will generally receive preference for WIC benefits. In addition, a mother will receive preference if she has a qualifying medical condition.

During the application process, you must consent to testing for medical or dietary health conditions which may affect your ability to care for your baby. If you already receive benefits from another government assistance program, you may automatically qualify for WIC. It is important to check your state’s WIC program, as the guidelines vary from state to state. Read more.

Additional Resources

If you are looking for additional help on money-related issues and applying for a new job, we offer a wide range of information on debt consolidation, housing grants and home loans. You may find our tips on finding a good place to live helpful as well. We also have advice on writing a polished resumé and how to prepare for a job interview.