Many individuals and families are faced with many issues paying their everyday expenses, caring for their children, and getting through college or university. The rising costs for necessities create an even bigger dilemma for many people. Fortunately, there are many programs designed for low income individuals and families which can assist them in everyday expenses to increase their quality of life and to care for there family.
This article will examine and explain many of the financial assistance programs available:
- Rental Assistance
- Housing Assistance
- Food Assistance
- Childcare Assistance
- Charity Assistance
- Health Care Assistance
Qualifying for Low Income Assistance: What is Low Income?
Each state has their own guidelines and eligibility criteria as well as different applications however the eligibility is based on a percentage of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines. The following displays the poverty guidelines used by each state:
2015 Federal Poverty Income Guideline
|Number of People in Household||Poverty income guideline|
|1 Person in family||$11700|
|2 People In family||$15930|
|3 People In family||$20090|
|4 People In family||$24250|
|5 People In family||$28410|
|6 People in family||$32570|
|7 People In family||$36730|
|8 people in family||$40890|
Many of the states have an online eligibility calculator to give a good estimate if you will be eligible to receive the assistance. On average the family’s income has to be 200% or less of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines.
Example: Pennsylvania Low Income Qualifications
To help provide you with a better understanding we will use Pennsylvania as an example of how the program works:
In the state of Pennsylvania, the eligibility depends on the family’s income and the reason you are seeking child care assistance. If a family has an income below 200% or less of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines then the family would most likely qualify for assistance. When you submit the application the basic guidelines you will usually see are as follows:
have one or more children that need care while you the parent are at work or attended college or university
meet income guidelines according to the size of your family
work 20 or more hours per week, or 10 hours of work per week along with 10 hours of schooling per week
if you do not have a job you must at least have a guarantee of a job that will begin within 30 days of the date when the application is submitted
the child who needs care must be a U.S. citizen
Furthermore, there are many specific guidelines that must be met to confirm eligibility. They are as follows:
the hours that a child will receive the covered child care must be equal or very close to the amount of hours of work, training or schooling by the parent
Children are eligible until the age of 13, if a child has a disability they are approved until the age of 18
the parent is still responsible for a portion of the child care called a co-payment, the amount varies and can be as low as $5 per week.
The parent of the child can choose a child care provider of their choice such as a day care center, a private day care, or even a close relative, friend, or neighbour.
if the child care is performed by a friend, relative or neighbor they must complete a form and agree to the participation and care requirements in order to participle in the subsidized child care program.
Rental / Housing Assistance
One of the most common issues low income individuals and families experience is having inadequate funds to pay for rent. This is especially the case for single mothers who have to care for their children on one income alone. Fortunately there is a rental assistance program available.
Low Income Public Housing Program
This program created by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development provides adequate rental housing for low income families.These houses come in all shapes and sizes from single houses to apartments to condos etc. It works buy the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) transferring the financial aid to local housing agencies (HAs).The local housing agencies then provide funds to low income families to ensure they have rent payments that they can afford to pay.
Eligibility: your eligibility is based on a few factors such as:
- annual gross income
- your qualification status as an elderly person, disabled person, or as a family .
- your U.S. citizenship status
The housing agencies use income limits created by the HUD which are set at 80% of the income of your area median income, as well as very low income limits at 50% of the median income for your metropolitan area. To apply you must contact your local housing agency who will assist you in filling in the application form which needs detailed and personal information such as :
- name, birthdate, sex and relation to the head of the family
- name and address of your previous and current tenants to discover your behaviour as a tenant
- an estimation and source of your family’s income for the next 12 months
- the names and details of any banks or financial institutions you may belong to, as well as your employer’s information
If your are accepted for the rental assistance, there most likely will be a lengthy waiting list that you will be placed on.The waiting list time varies from approximately six months to a year. Once your wait is over you will then have to sign a lease with the housing agency. The rent payments, which is called the Toal Tennant Payment is based on your entire family’s anticipated annual income less any deductions. You can stay in the public housing as long as you comply with your lease, however the housing agency will re evaluate your income to determine if you are still in need of public housing.
Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8 Housing)
This is another useful rental assistance program also managed by the U.S. department of Housing and Urban Development. It works by the recipient looking for a suitable apartment through the voucher program, in which the recipient pays only 30% to 40% of the rent while the rest is paid by the government. The program targets low income families, the elderly and the disabled. To apply you must contact your local housing agency and fill out an application similar to the one for the low income housing program.
Unfortunately there are very long waiting periods and there is no guarantee that you will be accepted. However it is definitely worth applying to as the entire process is free.
Family Unification Program
This is another rental assistance program that is similar to the low income public housing program. The assistance is provided towards two different criteria:
- families who have inadequate housing in which the children may be placed in out of home care,or if there is the issue such as a delay of the children being discharged and released back to their family home
- youth between the ages of 18 to 21 who have left foster care at age 16 or older, who lack adequate housing.
The financial aid works by the family unification program collaborating with public child welfare agencies who determine if the individual or family is eligible for the rental assistance.
Direct Assistance For Low Income Families
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
Moving on, there are different financial assistance programs available to individuals and families through a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families(TANF).The federal government funds this program as they have provided financial relief to over 1.6 million families. The program provided temporary financial aid to families who are living off income which is much lower then the poverty threshold.
The program seeks to provide temporary payments so the individuals and families can get off welfare through employment. The payments are delivered via a Electronic Benefits Transfer Form which works like a debit card. It is used to pay for living expenses such as rent, day care, food, and everyday living expenses.
Eligibility: The eligibility of this program is determined by the combined income of the household in correlation with the number of dependants living in the household. Similarly to the rental assistance program, this program is operated by the state in which the family lives in. Each state has their own set of eligibility requirements regarding the benefit levels as well as the length of the payments. However most states do require that families applying have an asset limit of $2000 or less. There is a federal law stating the longest a family can receive the assistance is for 5 years, however after that time period you can apply for an extension of cash assistance.
Requirements: To receive the cash assistance there are employment requirements that must be adhered to. It is required to work for an average of 30 hours per week, or have employment no later then 2 years after first receiving the cash assistance.
Single mothers have more flexibility with employment, as single mothers must work an average of 20 hours per week if they have any children under the age of 6.
To meet the job requirements you must do at least one of the following:
- have unsubsidized or subsidized employment
- receive on the job training
- participate in community service
- receive up to 12 months of vocational training
- provide child care services to to people participating in community service
Amount of payments : This varies greatly depending on the state with payments ranging from approximately $170 all the way up to $925. The payments depend on the size of the family and which state you are in. Using an average of all 52 states combined, the amount the average payment equates to is approximately $500.
How to Apply: Application varies by the state however it is administered by the Office of Family Assistance. Searching Temporary Cash Assistance For The Poor(TANF) along with your state on the internet should bring up the contact information.
This program, administered by the Department of Labor, provides weekly payments to the unemployed who have lost their jobs through reasons through no fault of their own for up to 26 weeks. The payment amounts are based on a percentage of the amount you made with your last employer. The amounts vary state by state however on average the payments equate to approximately 50% of your weekly earnings however it can be a lot less depending on the state in which you reside.This program is designed to keep individuals afloat while they look for new employment opportunities.To be eligible for the payments you must meet the follow criteria:
- have lost employment through no fault of your own
- be able to work, available to work, and are actively seeking work
- have earned some money during what is called a base period prior to being unemployed
You can apply online, or over the phone through the state in which you reside in. This can be done by visiting your state unemployment insurance office.
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
This program offers financial assistance to low income families who have trouble with their heating and cooling bill expenses. LIHEAP has assisted over 6.9 million households in the United States. It is designed for those who desperately need some assistance such as very low income families, the elderly, or families with very young children or the disabled. Fuel and energy costs continue to rise making energy costs a real issue for the low income households. In fact, funding for the program is growing smaller while the number of families and individuals who would benefit from this program continues to rise.
This program also offers energy home repairs, energy crisis assistance as well as some weather protected services. The payments differ by state, however most states have a LIHEAP Direct Vendor Payment(DVP) which are one time payments to applicants who prove that they are low income and responsible for the payment of their home heating an energy costs.
To apply for this program you can visit liheap.org where you will find an abundance of information, as well as a state by state directory which allows you to contact your local LIHEAP center.
Head Start/Early Head StartProgram
These are two different local head start programs offered by the federal government that provide financial assistance to families who have children aged 0 to 5 years old. The program offers a wide variety of financial assistance such as health care, child education, as well as helpful information for pregnant women. The program strives to ensure stable family relationships between parents and their young children as well as to enhance the physical and emotional well being of the children.The programs are designed for families or individuals who are at or below the poverty level.
To apply for the Head Start program you must contact your nearest Head Start program locator in your community.
Food Assistance Programs
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
SNAP is a federally instated food program which assists with food payments for the needy and low income families across the country, including the elderly. SNAP is a federal entitlement program which means anybody who is eligible will receive the SNAP benefits, as there is no waiting lists or anything of that nature. The benefits are received in the form of a plastic card called an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card which works similar to a debit card. The card is used to buy groceries at participating locations in the area the family or individual is located.
Eligibility:SNAP is very flexible in terms of who can receive it’s benefits. You can be on a regular income, pension, or unemployment, etc and still receive SNAP benefits.You can also be homeless, or unemployed and receiving other benefits at the same time as receiving SNAP benefits. However the eligibility is determined by a calculation involving some factors such as income, family size, and certain expenses. In fact the main factors used to determine eligibility are:
- the amount of people in your home
- your total amount of assets
- your gross monthly income
- your total household expenses
It cant take up to 30 days to receive the benefits after applying however the process can be expedited if you meet any of the following:
- income and bank account balances add up to less then your monthly expenses
- monthly income is less then $150, and bank account balance is less then $100
- the applicant is a migrant worker and bank account balance is less than $100
To apply for the SNAP program you must fill out an application online by using this the local SNAP locator or by calling your state’s SNAP hotline number.
The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)
TEFAP is a federal based program that provides free food commodities to low income families and individuals including the elderly, across the United States. Homeless people are also eligible to receive TEFAP. The food assistance is provided through each state individually by offering short term food relief through emergency food providers such as shelters, soup kitchens, as well as local food banks.TEFAP provides a wide variety of mainly healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products. The amount of food and funding for each state is based on the poverty level and unemployment rate of that particular state.
To be eligible for this program the possible participants must meet the criteria of the state they reside in. If you meet the state’s income standard you will be eligible, however the state considers any other programs you are enrolled in such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program(SNAP), or any other welfare programs whose eligibility is determined by income.However anybody who receives TEFAP can also receive the following:
- Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP)
- National School Lunch Program
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)
- Commodity Supplemental Food Program
To apply for this program you must contact your nearest state distributing agency.
Charity Assistance Through The Salvation Army
You can get rental, food, clothing, and other assistance through charities — especially the Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army is a very useful resource to assist low income families who are experiencing difficulties paying rent and any other living expenses. Many people do not realize the great assistance that the Salvation Army can provide.
The Salvation Army gives priority to low income families, single parents, the elderly as well as people with disabilities. First priority is given to the families who are at the highest risk of losing their housing or are already on the verge of homelessness. There is most likely a Salvation Army centre in your area which can be found by visiting salvationarmyusa.org.
The Salvation Army has a Housing and Homeless Services division which provides group homes, emergency shelters, as well as transitional living centers. The living centers provide housing, food, and lodging, for any amount of time a family might need. In addition to those services the Salvation Army also provides counselling services to families and youth when other counselling is unavailable.If your family is struggling and have not been able to receive any assistance via other rental assistance programs do not hesitate to contact your local Salvation Army centre as they are there to help you get through tough times.
Child Care Assistance Programs (CCAP)
Raising a child is very costly and can be very difficult for parents to provide adequate care for their children when on a low income. In fact the yearly cost of raising a child can raise approximately $3700 to $16 500 a year depending on your location, age of the children, and the different expenses required to care for the child such as medical costs etc.
Each state has their own child care programs known as child care subsidies to assist low income families with the costs of their children aged 13 and under. Older children may be eligible based on a medical condition or disability. The program pays for a portion of day care costs,while the parent pays the other portion. If you are eligible the payments work as follows:
- the child care subsidy will pay a portion of your child care cost, which is referred to as a subsidy payment.
- you will have to pay your portion of the cost which is called family co-pay
- both the subsidy payment and your co-pay payment go directly to the child care program
Health Insurance Assistance
Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
This program provides low cost health coverage to uninsured children between the ages 0-19 for families who’s income is to high to receive Medicaid but can’t afford to get coverage on their own. CHIP is administered at a Federal level but it is managed on a state by state basis.The state works closely with their own Medicaid program. Each state varies in its coverage however some states cover parents and pregnant women as well. The services CHIP performs are as follows:
- routine check ups
- doctor visits
- doctor/dental care
- emergency services
- x ray services
You can apply for CHIP at any time of the year as there are no deadlines, and if you qualify the services will start immediately. Most of the routine CHIP services are free, however there may be some services that require a co-payment by the parents of the children. Some states require that the family pays a monthly premium fee, however you will never have to pay more then 5% of your family’s income for the year.
Medicaid Health Insurance Assistance
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Because Medicaid is such a big program, we will discuss this in a future article.