A layoff, a medical crisis, disability or other unexpected events can leave most financially secure middle class families down on their luck and needing financial assistance. Fortunately, the federal government sponsors many programs that can assist low-income families with the hope of getting more income into their bank accounts so that they can regain financial stability. To apply for these programs, contact your local human service agency (see Resources).
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides low-income families with assistance to pay their heating and cooling bills. Funds are distributed to each state based on weather; so for example, Tucson, Arizona residents will be more likely to get help with an electricity bill than a gas bill, while those in Buffalo, New York will mainly get assistance in the winter months.
Medicaid is a federal health insurance program administered at the state level that was designed for low-income populations. Each state has their own rules and regulation, but every state covers children, pregnant women, the elderly, blind and the disabled. Some states opt to cover families and caregivers.
National School Lunch Program
The National School Lunch Program is a federal program that offers assistance to states in providing fresh, nutritious meals to children from low-income families. Depending on the family's situation, these meals are either low-cost or free. In addition to lunch, the program offers breakfast, after school snacks, and summer meals in many areas.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development offers a few rental assistance programs. First, there are privately owned subsidized apartments available at a reduced cost to low-income tenants. Second, low-income families also have the option to apply for public housing apartments. Finally, if a low-income family has an apartment of their own, they can apply for the Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) to receive a voucher to help pay rent.
Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program
The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) is better known to most as Food Stamps. SNAP is a federal program that is administered by states to offer low-income individuals and families monetary assistance with purchasing food. These benefits can be used to purchase food products such as bread, cereal, meats, fruits and dairy products at any establishment that accepts SNAP benefits.
Telephone Assistance Programs
Lifeline and Link-up are programs sponsored by the Federal Communications Commission that providers low-income families with discounts in home phone service, including cell-phone service. In order to access the service, consumers must be using a telephone company that is a participant in the program.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is an emergency fund for families in dire situations. TANF offers assistance with basic needs, crisis services, and employment. It is a federally subsidized program that is administered by local jurisdictions and states.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: LIHEAP Fact Sheet
- Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services: Medicaid General Information
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Background Information About the TANF Emergency Fund
- Lifeline Across America: Consumers
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: Rental Assistance