9 Free Things for Low-Income Families: A Government Assistance Guide
The information in this article is current as of February 17, 2022.
In 2020 the US had an official poverty rate of 11.4%.
Governments worldwide offer free things for low-income families, and the U.S. government is no different. Many programs help people with finances, food, education, health care, and other vital aspects of life.
These programs range significantly in terms of eligibility and what they provide. To qualify, you or your family must meet specific requirements set by the government. If you’re wondering what free stuff from the government you might be eligible for, keep reading.
1. Food Assistance
Food is essential for everyone, so the government takes this food accessibility seriously. For example, the supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) ensures that low-income families have enough food.
SNAP provides food stamps to families to exchange for food and helps support around 47.6 million families across the U.S. The average value given to a family is $133 a month.
The government also has another food stamp program called The Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, And Children (WIC).
WIC offers food stamps to young children and nursing mothers.
On top of food vouchers, WIC helps with education and referrals to feed children up to six years old and pregnant women.
School-age children are also eligible for the Child Nutrition Program, which provides lunches at a reduced cost. This program helps around 30 million children.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) runs all these programs.
2. Health Insurance Marketplace
Like food, healthcare is one of the government’s most essential services. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has helped millions gain access to healthcare since its inception.
Before the ACA, many states would only provide free healthcare services to adults if they had children. Those without received no help, regardless of their income.
The ACA provides these services through Medicaid and the Health Insurance Marketplace, and it currently allows children to remain on their parent’s plan until they reach 26 years old.
Most of the health plans offer preventative care, including things such as:
- Cancer screenings
- Blood pressure tests
- Birth control
Some health insurance providers may deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions such as cancer or diabetes. The ACA protects people from being denied coverage for this reason.
Medicaid offers health support to low-income families and individuals. The benefits provided are free or low-cost and are available to people with disabilities, children, adults, pregnant women, and seniors.
1 in 5 Americans are currently covered by Medicaid, with over 40% of these being children. It also covers the fees for about half of all births within the US.
Medicaid is operated by the CMS (Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services), and the ACA helped to increase Medicaid coverage by almost a third.
4. Children’s Health Insurance Program
CHIP offers medical care to children up to the age of 19. To qualify, they must be part of a family with an income above the Medicaid limit but below the CHIP limit in their state.
CHIP covers the following:
- Medical supplies
- Hospital care
- Eye exams
- Routine check-ups
- X-ray services
- Laboratory services
- Dental care
- Doctor visits
- Emergency services
CHIP operates in every state, but each state sets its own guidelines. Therefore, it’s essential to check your local area’s regulations for eligibility, requirements, and offerings. The costs also vary by state but are usually around 5% of a family’s total income.
The Health Insurance Marketplace has an Open Enrollment Period each year, but you can apply for CHIP at any time.
Low-income families, as well as seniors and people with disabilities, can benefit from Housing Assistance. However, housing can be costly, so the government can subsidize housing, giving people access to affordable rented accommodation, be it private or government-owned.
Recipients of certificates from the Housing Choice Voucher Program can usually access housing for 30% or less of their income. This program can also help low-income families purchase housing in some situations.
This program currently provides over 1.2 million public housing units across the US.
6. Financial Assistance
Seniors and adults which children who have disabilities may be eligible for free government assistance through the Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI).
The program aims to help the aged, disabled, blind, etc., with clothing, food, and accommodation. Around 8.4 million recipients in the U.S. receive an average of $536 per month. The majority are blind or disabled.
As long as they meet the financial requirements, seniors over 65 are eligible, regardless of disabilities. SSI payments can be claimed on top of Social Security Disability Insurance or retirement benefits.
The amount you can receive through SSI can change depending on any other income you receive, as well as the state you live in. To be eligible an individual’s resources must be equal to or less than $2,000, or $3,000 for a couple.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or welfare programs are in place to temporarily assist families while they work towards self-sufficiency. Assistance is usually in the form of cash benefits. However, it may also cover job training or childcare services.
Many families that receive welfare still live below the poverty line and are required to find a job within two years of their first payment. Most states only offer welfare for five years or less to prevent people from relying on it in the long term.
If a family is receiving TANF and has another child they might not be eligible for more income if their total assets are below $2,000.
8. Head Start
Head Start is a program that helps low-income families with a range of early childhood services including healthy nutrition, education, and parent involvement services. The program is only available for families with a child that is five years or younger.
Operated by the Department of Health and Human Services, Head Start helps over 1 million children each year, and 1,600 private and public organizations run its services.
Multiple programs within Head Start focus on early learning and development, health, and family well-being. They aim to cover a range of needs and do this through different initiatives to help specific population groups such as:
- Head Start – promoting school readiness in children aged 3 to 5
- EHS (Early Head Start) – helping families with children up to 3 years old prepare for Head Start or other pre-K programs
- AIAN (American Indian and Alaska Native) Head Start – supporting children of AIAN heritage, offering traditional services such as language and cultural practices
- MSHS (Migrant and Seasonal Head Start) – dedicated to families that move regularly for agricultural work, or families who partake in seasonal farm work
9. Federal Pell Grant Program
Grants, like scholarships, are funds to help with individuals’ education and do not need to be repaid. Operated by the Department of Education, the Federal Pell Grant Program allows students from low-income families to pay for postsecondary education. Grants typically cover college or trade school.
The program is in place as attendance fees for postsecondary education can often be well beyond the means of low-income families, so grants can help them afford it.
The amount given depends on multiple factors such as the school’s costs, the student’s financial needs, and whether the education will be part-time or full-time.
The Lifeline Program
Lifeline is a federal program available in all fifty states, United States territories, and Tribal lands. Designed to make connectivity available to Americans who may not otherwise be able to afford the cost of these services, the program helps subsidize access to free or heavily discounted communication services.
Federal law requires telecommunication providers to contribute to the Universal Service Fund, which administers and pays for the Lifeline program.
Today the Lifeline government benefit program allows qualifying low-income Americans to get phone and internet services for free or at discounted rates. In addition, qualifying individuals who enroll in Lifeline with a participating provider will typically receive minutes, text, and data and may receive additional offers such as a free phone from some providers.
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is a government benefit program operated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make broadband more affordable for struggling households.
The ACP provides discounts of up to $30 per eligible household on monthly broadband Internet access service (or up to $75 per eligible household on Tribal lands) and up to $100 on specific connected devices (with a required co-pay of between $10 and $50).
ACP services and devices are subject to consumer eligibility, provider participation, product availability, and approval by the FCC and its ACP administrator, the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC).
A household is eligible to receive an ACP discount if a member of the household meets one of the following criteria:
- Has an income that is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level;
- Receives benefits from Medicaid/Medi-Cal, SNAP/Cal-Fresh, SSI, Federal Public Housing Assistance, Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit, WIC, or Lifeline;
- Is approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program; or
- Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year.
ACP eligibility will be determined by USAC’s National Verifier and National Lifeline Accountability Database or an alternative verification process approved by the FCC.
Finding the Best Free Things for Low-Income Families
If you and your family are on a low income, there are several ways the government offers help. This can be in the form of financial assistance, healthcare, housing, and more. Understanding the free things for low-income families can benefit anyone having difficulty getting by.
The programs mentioned above, as well as others, have specific requirements to meet for eligibility. They also vary in different states, so taking the time to research what exactly you or your family qualify for is highly recommended.
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