Being unemployed and worried about finances is scary. Fortunately, there are programs that can help you get along without a steady paycheck. The trick is to start learning about these programs and how to apply, before your situation becomes truly desperate.
Your State Unemployment Department
If you've delayed filing for unemployment benefits, you've made a big mistake. You can lose benefits to which your are entitled by waiting too long to file. Keep in mind that unemployment insurance is not welfare but a benefit paid by payroll taxes. When you file for unemployment, you may be informed about other social service programs that can help you and your family. If your unemployment office doesn't automatically provide this information, ask about it.
Department of Human Services
Every state manages its government-sponsored benefits program through a dedicated agency, sometimes called the Department of Human Services or Social Services. Whatever your state calls it, this is the agency to contact for help meeting your day-to-day needs. These agencies administer many government programs, including general assistance, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), and Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF). In many cases, you only have to fill out one application when you ask for help and your caseworker can tell you what benefit programs you qualify for.
Private Charities and Social Service Agencies
Both large and small charities and private social service agencies, such as the Salvation Army and Community Action Agencies, offer programs that can help you. In some cases, these organizations receive grants from government sources and can provide you with emergency help in paying bills, child care and putting food on your table.
Credit and Housing Counseling Services
If you are in debt or worried about losing your home, contact a credit counselor approved by the U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee or U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs approved housing counselor for help. They can help you understand your options for managing your debt or mortgage and may be able to help you avoid foreclosure or being turned over to collection agencies by your creditors.
If your housing situation is desperate, contact your local public housing authority. While the waiting list for public housing and Housing Choice vouchers (formerly known as “Section 8”) is long, if you, or a member of your family, is disabled or elderly, the agency may be able to help you find a place to live. If you have difficulty paying for your utilities, contact your utility company to ask about payment arrangements or low-income utility assistance programs.