An Overview of Assistance Programs



Oftentimes, it is very difficult for low-income families to afford the monthly costs of rent, healthcare, groceries and other necessary expenses. If families have no money to place in savings, it may become increasingly difficult for them to improve their situations and better their lives. Fortunately, there are a variety of government assistance programs in place that may help them improve their circumstances and eventually become financially independent.

Our informative guidelines are designed to help you understand the different government assistance programs available and which ones may work best for you. These tips may be useful because every program has its own eligibility requirements and application process. It is important to learn as much as you can about each program, so that you know which ones you may qualify for.

An Introduction to SNAP

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is still sometimes called the food stamps program, is the largest nationwide nutrition program in the U.S. While it is known for supporting low-income families, it also helps people who are elderly, disabled or both.

Recipients typically use electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards to purchase groceries. EBTs are refilled by the recipient’s local SNAP agency each month. In general, benefits may only be used to purchase certain food items. Other merchandise available at grocery stores, such as cigarettes or alcohol, may not be purchased with EBTs.

You may qualify if the total income for your family does not exceed a certain amount. This income limit varies from state to state. Other factors that will determine your eligibility include the number of children and adults in your household, the number of adults with jobs and the number of family members who are disabled or pregnant.

Visit your state’s SNAP website to learn how to apply. You will most likely be able to apply online, in person or by mail.

General Info on Medicaid

Medicaid is a health insurance program offered nationwide that covers millions of Americans each year. Qualified customers are either low-income individuals, pregnant, elderly or disabled. The program is funded by the federal government and administered by each state. Some states have their own names for the Medicaid program.

All states are required to offer essential coverage and some supplemental coverage. Additionally, the program is known for providing customers with low premiums, low copayments and low deductibles. Certain applicants may never have to pay for health expenses out-of-pocket.

As with SNAP, Medicaid determines eligibility based on your income level. The application process may vary from state to state, though you must submit certain personal information regardless of your state. This includes the names, birth dates, Social Security Numbers (SSNs) and income information for each family member. You must also indicate whether you receive benefits from any other government or state assistance program.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

CHIP is a health insurance program for children and is run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is often paired with Medicaid because both programs offer coverage to children in low-income families.

Parents may qualify for CHIP without qualifying for Medicaid. This often happens when their income is too high to receive Medicaid benefits, but too low to afford private health insurance. CHIP mainly covers children who are 18 years of age or younger, though it may also cover expecting mothers.

The application may be completed online or by calling the CHIP phone number. There is no enrollment period for the program, meaning parents or legal guardians may apply for CHIP at any time during the year. Additionally, the benefits are comprehensive. Routine check ups, immunizations, doctor visits, prescriptions, dental care, eye exams, hospital care and more are all covered. Read more about the CHIP program

The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program

The Section 8 program may be a good option for you if you and your family are low-income and cannot afford to rent a decent apartment or another type of living space. The program receives funds from the federal government but operates on a town and county level within states.

Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) are responsible for different areas of the state. If you qualify, your local PHA may offer you rental assistance in the form of a housing voucher. The housing voucher will pay for a portion of your rent in a new home that meets health and safety conditions.

Unfortunately, it is not easy to receive benefits from the Section 8 program. Rental assistance is in high demand and some states have closed their waitlists indefinitely. In other states where waitlists are still open, applicants have been waiting for years to receive benefits.

Be sure to visit your state’s PHA office or website online to determine whether the waitlist is still open and how long the average applicant waits to receive a voucher.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

The TANF program provides qualified low-income families with monetary assistance for a set time period. Benefits are meant to be temporary, as the program aims to help applicants become financially independent.

Additionally, the eligibility requirements for TANF are somewhat different from other programs, because applicants must have a child who is enrolled full-time in high school. An applicant who is pregnant may receive benefits from the TANF program depending on the stage of her pregnancy. Learn more about you can benefit from TANF.

Unemployment Insurance

You may qualify for unemployment insurance in your state if you were recently fired but did not cause yourself to lose your job. Unemployment benefits are designed to help you with your financial obligations and necessary expenses while you look for a new job.

You are required to actively search for a new position while you receive benefits. In order to qualify for benefits, you must have worked at a salaried job for a certain amount of time. If you are eligible, you may elect to receive your benefits through a special debit card or through monthly checks.

An Introduction to WIC

The Women’s Infants and Children Program may offer you monetary assistance if you have a very low income and have a child or are expecting a child. If you are already a mother, your child must be younger than 5 years of age.

You may receive higher priority for WIC benefits if you have a baby who is breastfeeding or still receiving formula. You may also be considered a preferred candidate if you have nutritional risk. This means that you were diagnosed with a medical or dietary condition that could potentially affect your child. Read more about WIC.

Additional Resources

You may also find our information on debt consolidation, credit scores and credit reports helpful. These tips may give you the knowledge you need to organize and manage your finances. We also offer guidelines on how direct deposits of government benefits work, how to apply for home grants and first-time homebuyer grants and more.