The U.S. offers a wealth of government benefits to its citizens through a wide variety of assistance programs. These programs are designed to give qualified applicants a financial boost when they need it most, whether it is for medical, nutritional or even educational purposes. For example, housing assistance programs allow citizens to access affordable housing or qualify for government-backed home loans. Likewise, programs like Social Security give support for elderly and disabled recipients.
Exact eligibility requirements and application procedures vary depending on the program you are interested in. While most are based on your personal finances, some also take other factors into consideration. In addition, benefit amounts and qualifications may also vary on a state-by-state basis for some programs. The following list of government programs outlines the basics of eligibility and explains how you can best use these benefits.
About Cash Assistance
During certain circumstances, you may become eligible to apply for cash assistance programs in order to supplement your income. These programs are designed to give temporary relief in the event that you face unemployment, or are otherwise unable to support your family.
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For example, you can apply for unemployment benefits, also known as Unemployment Insurance (UI), if you recently became unemployed through no fault of your own. This includes if you are laid off due to company budget cuts, or a similar reason. Once you file a claim, this state-run program enables you to get benefits while you search for another job. However, you must meet the base period wage requirements and any other qualifications outlined by your state.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, is a similar program aimed specifically towards applicants with children. Each state gets a grant from the federal government to run this program, in order to ensure that children get the support they need at home. Along with demonstrating financial need, applicants are usually required to participate in career training and job searches in order to maintain eligibility.
About Nutrition Assistance
Additional government benefit programs are also available for low-income households that are unable to afford basic nutritional staples. The largest of these programs is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Also known as food stamps, this program is funded by the federal government, though benefits are applied for and distributed at the state level.
SNAP benefits are available to applicants who meet income and resource limits. Unlike the programs listed above, recipients remain eligible for SNAP as long as they continue to meet these qualifications. However, these benefits can only be used to purchase certain food items, including but not limited to:
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- Fruits and vegetables.
The Women, Infants and Children program, commonly referred to as WIC, is a similar initiative geared towards pregnant women or those who are caring for an infant or child. Just like those who apply for food stamps, women and their children up to five years of age can use these benefits to purchase nutritional foods. In addition, this program also gives access to health screening, nutritional counseling and other vital resources.
About Health Assistance
Low-income families and individuals who are unable to secure affordable health insurance can apply for several assistance programs for help. In particular, some programs give coverage to specific groups, such as children, parents and military service members. The following healthcare programs help these groups access the medical help they need:
- The Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP offers covers for children up to a certain age, as well as parents, guardians and eligible pregnant women. The program is organized on the state level based on federal requirements, so exact coverage levels vary.
- Medicaid is a health care program that can help adults and children alike. Although CHIP and Medicaid work together in many states, there are several differences between the programs. Mainly, the financial requirements for this program are stricter. Some states also choose to expand coverage to include qualified low-income individuals in addition to families.
- Tricare gives healthcare coverage for members of the armed services and their families, including surviving spouses. It offers several health plans and special programs, with eligibility based on the nature of the applicant’s service.
About Elderly and Disability Assistance
Financial help e for elderly or disabled individuals is given in the form of Social Security benefits. These are largely distributed at the federal level, though some states offer supplemental benefits as well. To become eligible, applicants are required to meet either age or disability qualifications in addition to financial requirements.
The Social Security Administration offers these benefits through two programs. Supplemental Security Income, or SSI is available to qualifying blind, disabled or aged applicants with a limited income, including children. On the other hand, SSI disability (SSDI) is offered to disabled or blind workers who are unable to work due to long-term impairments. SSDI payments are based on work credits and history, while the SSI is not based on work requirements.
About Housing Assistance
Government programs that help applicants find affordable housing come in many shapes and sizes. For example, Section 8 is a housing voucher program that allows low-income families to afford safe and sanitary homes. While the program is federally funded and vouchers are distributed by local public housing agencies, applicants can use the vouchers on any qualifying property in the private market.
There are also multiple government-backed loan programs that help applicants to secure affordable mortgages. For example, VA home loans are backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and help service members to purchase or build homes for themselves and their families. Loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) or Fannie Mae can offer better terms to qualifying applicants, like lower interest rates and down payments.
Some private owners also give house hunters the option to rent-to-own a property, which allows them to buy a house through a non-traditional option. Instead, each rent payment bringers renters one step closer to owning the property. A rent-to-own option can even help renters improve their credit scores enough to secure a mortgage to pay for the remaining cost of the home when necessary.
The Low Income Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, is another federal program that helps low-income renters and home owners cover their heating and cooling expenses in emergencies.
About Education Assistance
Educational help is available to a variety of groups, including low-income teens and adults, as well as military service members. Those who qualify can apply to get educational funding from the federal government through grants, which do not require repayment. Alternately, some private companies offer affordable loans to applicants who need help paying for their education. Funds from these programs can be used for things like:
- Room and board.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as FAFSA, is one of the most common ways students find financial support. Applicants qualify based on household income and can reapply every year to get aid and find assistance opportunities. Similarly, the GI Bill program is handled by the VA, and offers educational support to service members and their families. Applicants qualify based on the length and nature of their service.
Sallie Mae is a private company that issues student loans to qualifying applicants. Several types or loans are available, whether for undergraduates, graduates or even parents. Eligibility and interest rates are determined based on credit. In addition, students can choose between variable and fixed interest rates, and select a repayment method that works best for them.
About Unclaimed Assets
While not a “benefits” program like the rest, finding unclaimed money can still be a great way to potentially find cash you can use toward household expenses and purchases. Unclaimed property includes any funds or items that have gone “unclaimed” and are being held by state or federal governments until they can be claimed.
Money and assets can go unclaimed for many reasons. For example, a company or organization might owe you money, but cannot find you to give it to you, such as having incorrect contact information or an outdated address. Businesses are required to try and locate you, but they don’t always succeed.
Another common reason for unclaimed funds happens after the passing of a relative. Companies might not be aware of the death, or may be unsure of who is in charge of that person’s estate. Some of the most common types of unclaimed assets include:
- Balances on closed accounts
- Overpayments on debts
- Settled bankruptcy cases
Using a free unclaimed money search might turn over funds you didn’t even know were owed to you. Many government agencies have unclaimed property databases you can search to find money that you’re entitled to. Once found, you’ll need to follow the agency’s regulations and rules for submitting a claim. After submitting your claim, state and federal agencies typically take between 30 and 60 days to mail you a check for the amount owed.