Welfare programs use federal funds to subsidize food, shelter, health care and cash assistance to needy or low-income individuals and families. For example, “food stamps,” Medicaid, Section 8 housing, Social Security Income and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families are all examples of welfare assistance. You may qualify for a welfare program if you are elderly, disabled or have a family, and you meet certain income limits. Each state has its own set of requirements for applying for welfare, but you can generally expect to follow certain steps.
Find Your Local Office
A caseworker at a social services office can help you apply for welfare assistance. Each county has offices that administer one or more types of welfare assistance. To find the office nearest you, conduct an online search for “human services,” “health and human services,” or “social welfare services” in your area. The name, address, phone number and website for an agency or office in your city or county should come up. You can then navigate to the website, visit or call the service to determine the specific application requirements for your area and set up an appointment to apply.
Meet Monetary Limits
Only applicants who meet a welfare program’s maximum income and asset limits qualify for assistance. Income limits are based on a percentage of the federally determined poverty level for an individual or household. For example, at the time of publication, the poverty threshold or “poverty guideline” was $12,060 for an individual and $24,600 for a household of four. Welfare programs set income limits at a percentage of the poverty guideline. For example, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as “SNAP” or “food stamps.” To qualify, your gross monthly income must be at or below 130 percent of the poverty line, or $2,213 (about $26,600 a year) for a family of three. Your gross income, before deductions, is used when you apply for welfare, and your net income, after deductions, is also calculated to determine eligibility.
You must also submit asset information when you apply for welfare. Programs typically count cash and money on hand, such as bank accounts, toward your asset limit. Some states may have more relaxed asset guidelines than others, and certain welfare programs may count your home or car as an asset.
Interview and Documentation
You can set up an in-person appointment to meet with a caseworker at your local welfare office. At your appointment, or “interview,” a caseworker will ask questions to assess your short- and long-term welfare needs. They will provide options for welfare assistance based on your interview and help you apply. They will also supply a list of documents that you must provide to process your application. Documentation typically includes:
- Identification cards
- Birth certificates
- Immigration documents
- Tax returns and pay stubs
- Bank statements
- Rental agreement or mortgage statements
The welfare program may require certified copies or originals, rather than photocopies, of certain documents. The list should specify if anything other than copies is required.
Time Frames and Renewals
Upon receipt of your application and supporting documents, the welfare program can provide an approximate time frame for approval, a starting date for the welfare benefits, and a time limit as to how long you can receive welfare before renewal or termination. This time frame may also be referred to as a certification period. You must then renew or update information with the welfare program to continue to receive services. You may be able to renew or update your case over the phone, via mail or the internet, depending on the specific program in your area.
- The application process varies from office to office. Follow the directions you are given.
- Start gathering information right away - identification, birth certificates for everyone in the family, marriage and divorce certificates, bank statements, life insurance statements, pay stubs, Social Security cards, health insurance cards and tax records.
- Prepare to fill out a mound of forms. You will need to fill out different forms for each program.
- Ask for help if you have problems with the forms. Translators may also be available.
- Realize that welfare does not last forever. "Welfare to Work" policies require you to work towards employment.
- Present all information honestly. Welfare fraud is a serious crime.