As many as 12 million out-of-work Americans will lose vital unemployment benefits unless lawmakers pass new legislation before December 26. If you are one of these people, or have a job but are still struggling to get by, you should consider finding a public assistance program.
The government provides help for individuals and families through tax deductions for mortgages, unemployment insurance, and more. You fund these programs with your tax dollars, so you should take advantage while you need them. There is no shame in asking for help to cover necessities — especially when you need it the most.
Public Assistance Programs
The government runs several public assistance programs, but these will likely provide the most assistance during temporary economic hardship.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, offers various types of assistance. “It can be cash, and it can provide money for child care and employment training,” Ruth A. Brandwein, Stony Brook University School of Social Work dean and professor emeritus, told US News My Money. You may also find TANF assistance to help with transportation, state services, and other needs.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
Also known as SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program replaced the food stamp program. Families who enroll in the program receive a prepaid debit card that can cover non-prepared food costs. “For most people, it lasts maybe three weeks (out of the month), but it’s better than nothing,” Brandwein notes.
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program Women, Infants and Children
Abbreviated to WIC, this program assists low-earning pregnant women, postpartum mothers, and their children up to five years old with the cost of food. Data from the Department of Agriculture found that over half of newborns in the US receive assistance from this program.
Medicaid offers free health care coverage for low-income workers and those with limited means. Over the last several years, more states have expanded coverage, allowing more Americans to qualify. “This is no longer something that’s just limited to a narrow handful,” Harry Nelson, author and health care attorney, said. Nelson told US News My Money he believes nearly one-third of Californians are enrolled in Medicaid.
Understand Your State’s Eligibility Requirements
Make sure you research your individual state’s eligibility rules before filing for a government program. For example, “even though Medicaid is a federal program, states are given the opportunity to craft what eligibility looks like,” explained James A. Laughman, the president of intellectual and developmental disabilities solutions at AmeriHealth Caritas.
When it comes to Medicaid, you’ll find that the qualifying income threshold differs dramatically across the country. In Louisiana, for example, a three-person household could qualify for Medicaid if they earn $29,973.60 or less, or 138% of the federal poverty level. But if that family lived in Texas, they would be disqualified if they earned just $3,692.40 more. The reason is that states restrict coverage to families making under 17% of the federal poverty limit.
But income restrictions are just one limitation for program qualification — some states levy asset caps. And some programs, like TANF, limit the amount of aid you can receive in your lifetime. According to US News My Money, the federal government allows individuals to receive only 60 months’ worth of assistance, though, in many states, it may be just two or three years, Brandwein notes. Some programs might also have work stipulations that require recipients to have a job or work a set number of hours during the week.
When Should You Seek Assistance?
According to Mit Joyner, the National Association of Social workers president, you should file for government assistance before it becomes a pressing need. She advises families to make a file containing Social Security cards, birth certifications, marriage licenses, copies of past bills, and other documents that might be necessary to apply.
After that, you should apply for aid once you begin to struggle to make ends meet. “Don’t wait until you’re down to your last dollar,” Mit recommends.
Because several programs have asset caps, Fischer notes that you may have to deplete your savings before you qualify for relief. You may also consider familiarizing yourself with the federal poverty level to get a better idea of your odds of approval.
If you qualify for a government program, there is nothing wrong with getting extra support. Choosing to ignore or reject help could exacerbate your situation and create additional issues. These may be financial, emotional, or mental, but either way, it’s an added burden you shouldn’t place on yourself.
- LaPonsie, Maryalene. “Should You Apply for Government Assistance?” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 16 Dec. 2020, money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/family-finance/articles/should-you-apply-for-government-assistance.