How Does Public Assistance Work?

People with health, financial or housing needs, as examples, can receive short and long-term assistance from community, church, government, charity and non-profit organizations. Assistance can range from one-off payments to program enrollment, with varying options that depend largely on the economic standing of the applicant, availability of assistance, eligibility and other restrictions. A person in need of housing assistance can contact the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) organization to learn about HUD housing in his area, as well as apply to participate in the HUD voucher program. Each applicant (household) must meet basic qualifying requirements. These typically relate to income, for example the income to debt ratio, housing and rent costs in the area, and income level of the household. Together with several other determinants, an applicant will be denied or approved for participation. As with any assistance program, the process can take several weeks to a year, depending on the waiting list. Each application must detail the age and income of each member of the household.

Types of Assistance

From unemployment to disability benefits, persons and/or families with a demonstrated need may qualify to receive monies from the government and other non-profit organizations. Common types of assistance include: food stamps, veterans benefits, welfare, utility payment loans, unemployment benefits, reduced health care, reduced school lunch vouchers and housing vouchers (HUD). These, as with many other public assistance programs, require financial and employment documents to prove financial need, or in the case of unemployment benefits, a record of employment and a termination date as well as certification that the applicant is in search of new employment. Regardless of the public assistance program, an applicant must prove his case for assistance and be held accountable for the data he provides. In some cases, an applicant must continuously petition for assistance, for example on a monthly or yearly basis. The purpose of a continued (or rolling) application (or approval) process, is to eliminate overpayment or the unnecessary payment of benefits beyond the intended payment period. This also requires an applicant to continuously check with the assistance organization to monitor his progress (finding employment, for example) as well as prevent abuse of funds.

How to Apply for Assistance

To apply for public assistance, an applicant has to demonstrate need and eligibility. In most cases, an application is processed for approval. Upon approval, a specified assistance award is provided, determining the exact amount of assistance, length of time that assistance will be available; restrictions and qualifications that apply for continued eligibility are also determined. For example, a person receiving unemployment benefits might receive an award of 2,000 dollars, to be disbursed in 200 dollar weekly payments, over the course of 1 year. Restrictions may include and be subject to the applicant's willingness to search for new employment or remain available for full time employment should it be offered by a potential employer.