The cost of living is continuing to rise, making it difficult for many families to afford basic necessities, like housing and nutritious foods. Fortunately, there are several government programs designed to assist low-income families, including programs like:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
- Section 8 housing
Today, we’ll be talking about these programs, including what they are, their benefits, eligibility requirements, and how you can apply.
Get Food Assistance with SNAP (Food Stamps)
The most common food assistance program in the United States is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
SNAP (food stamps) provides qualifying households with food assistance through a food stamp card each month. This card can be used like a debit card on qualifying food items at acceptable locations, such as grocery stores.
With SNAP, assistance is more widely available, and eligibility requirements are primarily based on income. Additionally, you must meet citizenship (or qualifying immigration status) and work-based requirements to receive monthly aid.
Income, qualifying expenses, and household size determine monthly benefits. For example, larger households have a larger maximum benefit amount, but income and expenses are calculated to determine a beneficiary’s actual monthly allotment.
Each case is routinely reviewed to ensure continued eligibility, but households are required to report any changes, such as changes to household size, work, or income.
While SNAP is a federal program, the program is run at a state level. This means that you’ll need to apply for food stamps with your state program to determine your eligibility and benefit amount. Application methods can vary significantly by state. For example, some states may allow you to apply for food stamps online, in person, by phone, or by mail, while others may limit you to a smaller number of options.
You’re assigned a caseworker once you submit your application, who will schedule an interview. As part of your interview, you will be required to provide documentation to support your application, such as proof of income. If you are approved, you’ll receive a food stamp card, known as an EBT card, and you will begin receiving monthly assistance.
Apply for TANF Benefits for Cash Assistance
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program provides cash assistance to qualifying low-income families. These benefits can be used towards necessary household expenses, such as housing, food, and utility costs. Like many federal programs, income, household size, and expenses determine monetary benefit amounts.
In addition to cash aid, state TANF programs may provide:
- Work assistance
- Job preparation or education
- Child Care assistance
- Referrals to other government programs a family may be eligible for
To be eligible for TANF, you must meet income guidelines and you must meet one of the following qualifications:
- You are a pregnant woman
- You have at least one dependent child age 18 or younger living in your home
- You are a child age 18 or younger
Additionally, you must meet work requirements once you begin receiving benefits to continue to receive cash assistance. These requirements vary by state, and may include a few exceptions. You will also be required to report any changes to your household, such as changes related to income, work, or household members.
You will need to apply at your TANF office for assistance. Generally, state programs require you to apply for TANF benefits in person. However, some state programs may allow other application methods.
A caseworker will be assigned to your case once your application is accepted, and you will need to complete an intake interview. As part of the interview, you will be required to provide documents that support your application, including proof of income.
Assistance Through the WIC Program
The WIC program is designed to provide a variety of benefits to low-income women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and children under five. This federal program is provided on a state level through your local WIC office. Women and children eligible for WIC can receive services such as:
- WIC classes that include breastfeeding education and support and nutritional education and counseling
- Free nutritious foods at an approved WIC store
- Referrals to welfare, health, and social services
- Vouchers that can be used to purchase WIC-approved vegetables and fruits from authorized local farmers’ markets
Unlike SNAP, WIC has a smaller and more specific approved food list. For example, foods may be restricted to certain amounts and brands. Approved food items commonly include baby formulas, milk, cheese, eggs, bread, breakfast cereals, canned fish, legumes, brown rice, and other nutritious options.
In additional to categorical requirements, you must meet the following criteria:
- An applicant’s income must fall within WIC income limits
- You must be a resident of the state where you are applying for WIC benefits
- You must be at a nutritional risk, and a risk assessment will be conducted by a qualifying healthcare professional
You can apply for WIC benefits at your local WIC office. Depending on where you live, you may also be able to apply at mobile clinics, hospitals, public housing sites, migrant health centers, and schools. Usually, you must apply for WIC in person and cannot apply online.
Get Help With Housing Costs Through Section 8 Housing
The Housing Choice Voucher Program, more commonly known as Section 8 housing, is a government program that helps low-income families, seniors, and disabled persons with their housing costs. In a nutshell, the program pays a portion of the beneficiary’s rent to reduce the amount they must pay towards their housing.
To be eligible for the program, a household must meet income limits based on the medium income of the area they live in. Since these limits vary by area, some cities and metropolitan areas have higher income limits than others. Additionally, the program is only available to:
- Families with dependent children, senior citizens, and disabled persons
- U.S. citizens and those who have certain immigration statuses
- Qualifying rental histories
You can submit a Section 8 application through any Public Housing Authority (PHA). If you qualify, you will either receive assistance immediately or, more likely, put on a waiting list until aid becomes available. Unfortunately, Section 8 has notoriously long waiting lists due to the increasing need for housing assistance.
Each PHA has its own waiting list, and some PHAs prioritize certain groups of people, such as disabled persons, or extremely low-income families. Check with your local PHA to learn more about these preferences or to check the status of their waiting list. Additionally, you can apply to multiple PHAs, increasing your likelihood of getting help faster.
The PHA will contact you once Section 8 housing assistance becomes available. If you are still eligible for the program, you will need to find Section 8 apartments. Most PHAs have a Section 8 housing list of approved lenders in the area. However, you can live in any apartment that accepts housing vouchers and meets the PHA’s standards.