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Government Assistance Programs: What's Available and Where to Apply

Government Assistance Programs: What's Available and Where to Apply
Government Assistance Programs: What's Available and Where to Apply

Many federal and state agencies provide financial help to individuals and businesses. Here's a guide to major programs.

Financial Assistance for Individuals and Families

These programs offer support, including payments, goods, or services, to assist with basic living expenses for individuals who meet the qualification criteria of low wages.

Unemployment Insurance

Unemployment insurance (UI) operates as a joint federal and state program, with state administration and funding derived from the federal unemployment tax (FUTA) on employers. Additionally, states may collect their own state unemployment tax (SUTA).

The primary objective of unemployment insurance is to provide temporary financial aid to individuals who are unemployed through no fault of their own. However, eligibility is contingent on specific criteria, and not all individuals who have lost their jobs may qualify for this assistance.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), formerly referred to as welfare, is a federally funded program administered by states. Its purpose is to aid families in achieving independence during periods of temporary hardship. Eligible recipients can receive assistance with essential needs such as food, housing, home energy, childcare, and job training. TANF recipients are typically required to participate in a work activity as defined by their state.

Every state administers its TANF program and establishes eligibility criteria. To apply for benefits, you can contact your local county social services agency or reach out to your state TANF office for local contact information. It's important to note that qualifying for TANF does not automatically disqualify you from other government benefits.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal income program administered by Social Security, although it is not funded by it. SSI aims to address the basic needs of older, blind, and/or disabled Americans who have limited or no income. It involves a monthly payment to assist with expenses related to food, clothing, and shelter. Additionally, qualifying for SSI can make individuals eligible for Medicaid coverage and food stamps.

SSI qualification requirements generally require you to be 65 or older and blind or disabled. Among other things, you must also:

  • Have limited income

  • Have limited resources

  • Be a U.S. citizen or national or "qualified alien"

Student Financial Aid

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) functions as the government portal for various types of student financial assistance, including grants, scholarships, student loans, and work-study programs. These initiatives aim to provide financial support to college students based on documented financial needs.

Eligibility is based on:

  • Financial need

  • Being a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen

  • Maintaining good standing on your federal student loans

  • Acceptance into an eligible degree program

  • Maintaining adequate academic progress

Status of Student Loan Payments

The COVID-19 moratorium on student loan payments and interest concluded on September 30, 2023, with interest resuming on September 1, 2023.

In June 2023, the Supreme Court ruled against an effort by the Biden Administration to forgive up to $20,000 per borrower in student loan debt, estimating a cost of $430 billion.

Following the Supreme Court decision, the Biden administration introduced the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) plan, a new income-driven repayment option. The SAVE plan reduces monthly payments to 5% of discretionary income for undergraduate borrowers, raises the discretionary income threshold, and avoids capitalizing unpaid interest, providing a pathway to early forgiveness for low-balance borrowers.

Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)

The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) succeeded the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program in 2022 under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. It provides a monthly discount of $30 (or $75 for tribal lands) for qualifying broadband services and a one-time $100 discount for a new device from participating providers. Household eligibility is determined by income at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level or if at least one member meets specified criteria.

  • Is eligible for a participating provider's existing low-income internet program.

  • Participates in one of these assistance programs: The National School Lunch Program or the School Breakfast Program (including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision), SNAP, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), WIC, Veterans Pension or Survivor Benefits, or Lifeline.

  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

SNAP, previously referred to as food stamps, aids families in need to supplement their food budget, fostering a path toward self-sufficiency. Eligibility is determined by individual states administering the program, and applicants should contact their state agency in the respective location. Application procedures vary, with some states accepting online submissions, while others may require applicants to be physically present.

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)

WIC provides access to nutritious food, nutrition counseling, and referrals to health, welfare, and social services agencies for low-income women and their young children. The program is administered by the government through 89 WIC agencies and approximately 47,000 authorized retailers, operating as a federal grant initiative.

Eligibility criteria include being pregnant, nursing, or postpartum (up to six months after birth) with infants (up to a year old) or children (under the age of five). Additional information on income requirements is available on the WIC FAQ web page.


Medicare, a federal health insurance program for individuals 65 and older, comprises four parts. Part A covers inpatient hospital stays and nursing care, Part B includes doctor's visits and various medical services, Part C (Medicare Advantage) combines A and B coverage from a private insurer, and Part D offers optional prescription drug benefits.

Funding involves a 2.9% Medicare tax (1.45% each from employees and employers), with an extra 0.9% for those earning over $200,000. Trust funds manage finances: the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund for Part A and the Supplemental Medical Insurance Trust Fund for Parts B and D.

Individuals nearing 65, covered by employer insurance, should discuss Medicare options with their human resources department. Details are available on the Social Security website under "How to Apply for Medicare Only."

Medicaid and CHIP

Medicaid supports low-income families, while CHIP is for dependents under 19 whose parents earn too much for Medicaid but lack funds for private health insurance. Both federally funded programs operate at the state level, with each state having its regulations. Apply through the ACA Health Insurance Marketplace or your state Medicaid agency.



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