Financial Help for Low-Income People

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The United States government established several programs to provide financial assistance to low-income people. All programs are partially funded by the federal government and administered by the states. States have the authority to set specific eligibility guidelines for these financial assistance programs. Eligibility is based in large part on a household's income. People seeking assistance can find out details and apply at their local social services department.

Food Stamps

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is designed to assist eligible low-income individuals with food purchases. The goal of the program is to reduce hunger and establish nutritional value amongst households. Benefits are distributed to the participant's electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card once per month. Applicants must meet income requirements to receive benefits. The maximum amount of countable resources per household is $2,000 or $3,000 for households with a member age 60 or older. Countable resources include cash, bank accounts, and stocks and bonds. The maximum total gross income is $1,174 for a one-person household, $1,579 for a two-person household, $1,984 for a three-person household, and $2,389 for a four-person household.

Energy Assistance

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides financial assistance to eligible low-income households to help pay for energy costs. Applicants must meet income eligibility guidelines. States determine the specific eligibility criteria for households to qualify for assistance. States typically offer a one-time benefit to eligible households. The benefit amount depends on the household’s income and its energy costs. The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) provides weatherization services to eligible households in an effort to permanently reduce the costs of energy. Weatherization services include weather-stripping, caulking, window and wall insulation, repair and replacement of heating or cooling systems, and home energy audits. Applicants must meet income guidelines to qualify for WAP.

Rental Assistance

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides rental assistance to eligible low-income households. HUD offers public housing and the Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8). Public housing offers affordable apartments to low-income families, elderly, and disabled persons. Section 8 offers vouchers to help low-income households pay part or all of their rent. Individuals must meet income guidelines to qualify for the programs.

Supplemental Security Income

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program provides financial assistance to low-income individuals age 65 or older, or who are blind or disabled. SSI is managed by the Social Security Administration. The benefit is paid to SSI participants on a monthly basis. Eligibility for SSI depends on a person’s income and resources. Home energy assistance and food stamps are not counted as part of income or resources. The maximum amount of resources to qualify is $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple. Resources include stocks and bonds, bank accounts and real estate.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) provides financial assistance to low-income households so that children are properly cared for in the household. TANF seeks to encourage self-sufficiency by promoting job preparation, work and marriage. TANF also seeks to prevent pregnancies out-of-wedlock. Specific benefits are determined by states. Basic benefits of all states include cash assistance to help with basic needs, employment training and job placement, child care and family education.

Telephone Assistance

Lifeline and Link-Up are telephone assistance programs available to eligible low-income individuals. Lifeline offers eligible customers a monthly discount on their primary home telephone line. Qualified customers participating in Lifeline can receive a maximum discount of $10 per month on their phone bills. Link-Up reduces the amount of setting up new home phone service. Link-Up pays up to $30 for set-up fees of new service. Applicants must meet income guidelines for eligibility. Individuals who participate in Medicaid, SSI, SNAP, Section 8, LIHEAP or TANF automatically qualify for assistance.