Get The Help You Deserve: Top Ten Federal Assistance Programs



Food Stamps or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (formerly Food Stamps) helps low-income people and families buy the food they need for good health. Benefits are provided on the Illinois Link Card – an electronic card that is accepted at most grocery stores.



Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (often known by the acronym TANF

TANF stands for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The TANF program, which is time limited, assists families with children when the parents or other responsible relatives cannot provide for the family’s basic needs. The Federal government provides grants to States to run the TANF program.



Head Start Program

The Head Start Program is a program of the United States Department of Health and Human Services that provides comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families. The program’s services and resources are designed to foster stable family relationships, enhance children’s physical and emotional well-being, and establish an environment to develop strong cognitive skills. The transition from preschool to elementary school imposes diverse developmental challenges that include requiring the children to engage successfully with their peers outside of the family network, adjust to the space of a classroom, and meet the expectations the school setting provides.


Medicaid in the United States is a social health care program for families and individuals with low income and resources. The Health Insurance Association of America describes Medicaid as a “government insurance program for persons of all ages whose income and resources are insufficient to pay for health care.” (America’s Health Insurance Plans (HIAA), pg. 232). Medicaid is the largest source of funding for medical and health-related services for people with low income in the United States. It is a means-tested program that is jointly funded by the state and federal governments and managed by the states, with each state currently having broad leeway to determine who is eligible for its implementation of the program. States are not required to participate in the program, although all currently do. Medicaid recipients must be U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, and may include low-income adults, their children, and people with certain disabilities. Poverty alone does not necessarily qualify someone for Medicaid.

Supplemental Security Income (often known by the acronym SSI)

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a United States government program that provides stipends to low-income people who are either aged (65 or older), blind, or disabled. Although administered by the Social Security Administration SSI is funded from the U.S. Treasury general funds, not the Social Security trust fund. SSI was created in 1974 to replace federal-state adult assistance programs that served the same purpose. The restructuring of these programs was intended to standardize the eligibility requirements and level of benefits. The new federal program was incorporated into Title XVI (Title 16) of the Social Security Act. Today the program provides benefits to approximately eight million Americans.

Health Benefit Coverage under Child Health Insurance Plan (often known by the acronym CHIP)

CHIP Is Available in Every State. In general, children in families with incomes up to $47,700/year (for a family of four) are likely to be eligible for coverage. In many states, families can have higher incomes and their children can still qualify.

The National School Lunch Program’s Free Lunch Program.

The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day.

Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (often known by the acronym LIHEAP)

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is a United States federal social services program first established in 1981 and funded annually through Congressional appropriations.

Federal Public Housing Assistance (often known as Section 8)

“Section 8” is a common name for the Housing Choice Voucher Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Home Forward administers the program throughout Multnomah County. Low-income residents apply through Home Forward to qualify for a rent assistance voucher.

FDPIR Program – Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations

The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) is a Federal program that provides USDA foods to low-income households, including the elderly, living on Indian reservations, and to Native American families residing in designated areas near reservations and in the State of Oklahoma.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families



Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a federal program that provides cash assistance to struggling American families with dependent children. This cash benefit is often referred to simply as “welfare”.

About TANF



As stated by the Office of Administration for Children and Families, the purpose of TANF is to:

  • Provide assistance to needy families so that children can be cared for in their own homes.
  • Reduce the dependency of needy parents by promoting job preparation, work and marriage.
  • Prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies.
  • Encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.



Eligibility Requirements

TANF benefits are awarded by states, and, as such, individual states determine who is eligible for TANF benefits and services, so long is they conform to federal guidelines.

In general, states must use TANF funds to help families with children, or, if they do assist single persons, it must be for the purpose of reducing non-marital childbearing.

TANF funds cannot be used to assist most legal immigrants until they have been in the US for at least five years. Additionally, the following work requirements must be met in order to qualify:

  • Recipients must go to work as soon as they are able, and no later than two years after beginning to receive assistance.
  • Single parents are required to do some form of work for at least 30 hours per week. Two-parent families must participate in work activities for 35 or 55 hours a week, depending upon circumstance.
  • Failure to follow work requirements can result in a reduction or termination of benefits to the entire family.
  • As of 2004, states must ensure that 50 percent of all families and 90 percent of two-parent families are participating in work activities.

Apply for TANF

Be prepared with these documents:

  • ID or Driver’s License
  • Proof of Residency Utility Bills
  • Proof of Income
  • Social Security Card(s)

Also, you should be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • Are you applying for your own children? If yes, how many children and what is the birth date of your youngest child?
  • Do you receive SSI or disability Social Security benefits? Are you a 100 percent disabled veteran?
  • Have you received a TANF payment this month?
  • Have you ever received cash assistance in another state?
  • Is there another parent in the household? If yes:
  • Is the other parent working 100 or more hours per month?
  • Is the other parent disabled?
  • Is there a child in the home without both parents?
  • Have you quit a job, reduced hours or been fired in the last 60 days? If yes, what was the reason?
  • How much money do you or your children have in checking, savings, CDs, etc?
  • Are you currently employed? If so what is you total earned income? Do you receive child support, UI or BIA general assistance, or any other income? If so, what are the totals of each.
  • Do you and your children live alone? Do you live in subsidized housing or get help from anyone else with your housing costs?
  • Have you ever been convicted of a felony? Are you running from the law to avoid prosecution? Have you ever been convicted of receiving duplicate public assistance?
  • Are you a citizen of the United States?

To apply for TANF benefits, you will need to contact your local Department of Social Services (DSS) office. You can also call the federal hotline at 202-401-9275.

Apply For Medicaid



Medicaid is a federally funded program created for low-income families, children, senior citizens, and persons with disabilities. Today, nearly 60 million Americans are covered by Medicaid. If you have medical needs, are 65 or older, or are struggling due to little or no income, you may qualify for Medicaid.




In 2010 President Barack Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act, lowering the threshold of eligibility to 133% of FPL (annual income level of $29, 700 or less for a family of four in 2014). This new threshold went into effect on January 1, 2014. Other criteria is considered when applying for Medicaid, too, such as immigration status, current residency, and documentation of US citizenship. Medicaid recipients must be U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.


There are numerous benefits with Medicaid, and they can make a big difference if your struggling financially. Some of the benefits include, but are not limited to:

  • Inpatient hospital services
  • Prescription Drugs
  • Clinic services
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Podiatry services
  • Optometry services
  • Dental Services
  • Dentures
  • Prosthetics
  • Eyeglasses
  • Outpatient hospital services
  • Nursing Facility Services
  • Home health services
  • Physician services
  • Rural health clinic services
  • Federally qualified health center services
  • Laboratory and X-ray services
  • Family planning services
  • Nurse Midwife services
  • Certified Pediatric and Family Nurse Practitioner services
  • Transportation to medical care
  • Prescription Drugs
  • To get the most from Medicaid benefits, apply early and educate yourself.


Medicaid benefits are awarded through the states, so applications vary by state. Before applying, be sure to have all documents of citizenship handy. Also, you’ll have to have records of your income and expenses. Lastly, any medical records you have will be helpful to have ready. You can apply through the federal site and will be screened on the information you input.

Apply for Medicare



The Federally administered Medicare Program is a statewide social insurance program that uses about 30 private insurance companies all over the United States. Medicare offers health insurance to people 65-years-old and up who have worked and contributed into the benefits system as well as to younger people with disabilities, end stage renal disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.



Medicare offers 48 % of the health care charges for those who qualify; the remaining 52 % is covered either with supplemental insurance or with another form of out-of- pocket coverage. The out-of- pocket costs may vary according to the amount of health care a Medicare beneficiary may need. The Medicare Program has four parts: Hospital/Hospice insurance (Part A), Medical insurance (Part B), Medicare Advantage plans (Part C), Prescription drug plans (Part D).

Medicare allows the following out-of- pocket uncovered services:

  • long-term care;
  • dental care;
  • hearing and vision care;
  • supplemental insurance.

The Medicare Program requires that you meet the following conditions in order to become eligible:

  • have 65 years of age or older;
  • be a legal resident of the United States for at least 5 years;
  • have a disability (even if you are under 65) and be the beneficiary of a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI);
  • get continuing dialysis for end stage renal disease;
  • need a kidney transplant.

The Medicare Program allows those who are 65-years-old and up the opportunity to enroll in Medicare Part A to pay a monthly premium if they or their spouse have not paid the qualifying Medicare payroll taxes. Otherwise, they cannot take part in the benefits of Medicare Hospital/Hospice insurance. The Medicare Program allows those who have disabilities and receive SSDI to be eligible for Medicare while they continue to receive SSDI payments. Otherwise, if they stop receiving SSDI, they lose eligibility for Medicare based on disability. All benefits offered through the Medicare Program are subject to medical necessity.

If you feel that you may be eligible, you may contact Medicare on the phone at 1-800- MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) or you may access the Government’s official website. You can also use the Medicare mailing address: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services 7500 Security Blvd, Baltimore, MD 21244-1850. If you want someone else to call on your behalf (at the official number 1-800-MEDICARE) or you want your personal information be given to someone else but you, you have to fill out a Medicare Authorization to Disclose Personal Health Information.

Low-Income Americans Get Free Cell Phone and Service



If you’re struggling financially, paying for cell phone service can be a real challenge. Yet having a cell phone is almost necessary these days. If you’re looking for a new job, applying for benefits, or just raising a family, you need a phone so people can reach you. Thankfully, the Lifeline program helps low-income Americans by providing them a cell phone and covering some if not all of their cellular service costs.



If you’re struggling financially, paying for cell phone service can be a real challenge. Yet having a cell phone is almost necessary these days. If you’re looking for a new job, applying for benefits, or just raising a family, you need a phone so people can reach you. Thankfully, the Lifeline program helps low-income Americans by providing them a cell phone and covering some if not all of their cellular service costs.

How It Works

Lifeline Assistance is a benefit program enacted by the federal government that provides low-income households with discounts for monthly phone service. This program was designed to help Americans stay connected to communication networks so they can find jobs, access health care services, and get help in emergency situations. Lifeline is supported by the federal Universal Service Fund.

The Lifeline program covers the cost of a new cellphone and will pay for anywhere from 250 to unlimited minutes. Your service plan will depend on where you get service, as various providers participate in the program. Your free phone will be a current model with full features.

To get your free phone and service, you’ll need to contact one of the several providers throughout the country, such as Safelink Wireless, Assurance Wireless, Access Wireless, or one of several others. To see if you qualify, click below to continue reading.


The Lifeline Assistance program is available in all states, territories, commonwealth and Tribal lands to low-income subscribers. To qualify for a free cell phone and service, your income must either be at or below 135%* of the federal poverty guidelines, or you must already be enrolled and participating in one of the following programs:


  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps or SNAP)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance (Section 8)
  • Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
  • Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
  • National School Lunch Program’s Free Lunch Program
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
  • Tribally-Administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TTANF)
  • Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)
  • Head Start (if income eligibility criteria are met)
  • State assistance programs (if applicable)

Qualifying for free cellular service through the government is easy if you already are enrolled in one of the above programs, because you won’t have to prove your income. However, if you are not already a part of any of these programs but are below the income guidelines, you can still qualify with a littler paperwork.

Dozens of companies participate in the free government cell phone program, or the Lifeline assistance program. And the program has been hugely successful, with an estimated 12-15 million Americans already using a free government cell phone. Thanks to Lifeline Assistance, millions of Americans have regular access to cellular service.

In order to claim your free government cell phone, you need to meet the income requirements. If you think you qualify, here is what to do next:

Getting Free Government Cell Phone is Easy

To claim your free government cell phone, first you will want to identify the eligibility requirements in your state and the companies that offer phones. To check your eligibility, this tool can give you an idea if you qualify.

After you’ve determined whether you are eligible for your free government cell phone, you’ll want to find all the companies offering free cell phones in your state.

Lastly, you will need to re-certify your eligibility for your free cell service each year. Also, the Lifeline Assistance program is good for one phone per household. You will receive annual requests to update your information. Be sure to reply to these requests immediately, as not doing so may stop your benefits of free cellular service.

Are You Eligible For Disability?






Social Security disability refers to two completely different programs, the biggest of which is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSD). People on SSD are between the ages of 18 and 65, have worked and paid FICA taxes in the past, and are eligible for Medicare after two years of enrollment. SSD has a five-month waiting period to receive benefits, and can be extended to your spouse and children.

Meanwhile, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is completely need-based, and benefits are delivered during the first month after your approval. SSI recipients may also enroll in their state’s Medicaid program, and most qualify for food stamps.


How much can you get from disability, exactly?

Every case is unique, since the Social Security Administration uses a complex formula to calculate benefits. As a general guide, most people receiving SSD get between $300 and $2,200 per month, with the average monthly payout in 2014 at roughly $1,150. SSD payments in 2014 are capped at a maximum of $2,642.

To estimate your own potential benefit amount, you can use the SSA’s online benefits calculator here, or check your Social Security statement here.

Total auxiliary benefits (see below, Eligibility For Dependents) may not exceed 50–80% of the disabled individual’s benefits per dependent, and are capped at 150% of his or her benefits for the entire family.

For example, if Mr. Jones receives disability insurance at $500 per month, and his wife and two sons are also eligible, their total aid may not exceed $1,500 per month—$500 for Mr. Jones, and $1,000 divided between his wife and sons.

However, each individual dependent could not (typically) receive more than $400 per month.

SSI usually pays about $720 every month, or roughly $1,100 to eligible couples—with an increase for cost of living adjustments. In addition, all states add a supplement to the federal payment, except for:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Georgia
  • Mississippi
  • Oregon
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • West Virginia

State supplements range from $10 to $200, and depend on your marriage status and living arrangement.

If you qualify for SSD but receive low payment amounts, you can jointly enroll in SSI to meet its minimum monthly payout of $720. So, if you are only eligible for $360 from SSD, you will also receive $360 per month from SSI.

However, you must meet both programs’ enrollment requirements to receive joint benefits.


Each program has separate eligibility rules, though there is some overlap.

Medical Requirements

Social Security doesn’t use the same definition of “disability” as other government programs. Their coverage is only available to people who are totally disabled, and does not extend to partially disabled or short-term disabled individuals.

According to the Social Security Administration, you are considered disabled if:

  • You can’t do the same work you did before;
  • You are unable to perform other work because of your condition; and
  • Your condition has lasted, or is expected to last, for at least a year or result in death.

These strict rules assume that you have other ways to find short-term relief, such as workers’ compensation, savings, or insurance.

The Social Security Administration also maintains a list of impairments here, and some are considered severe enough for immediate benefits approval.

Social Security Disability Work Credits For SSD

To get Social Security disability insurance, you need insured Social Security status, meaning you paid enough in FICA taxes taken from your paychecks in the years leading up to your disability application.

To determine your eligibility, the Social Security Administration takes your past earnings and converts them to work credits. You can earn up to four work credits per year. For example, in 2013, $1,160 of earnings was needed to receive one work credit, and $4,640 to get the maximum credit amount.

The older you are, the more credits you will need to be eligible for disability benefits. The next step is to pass two tests regarding your work history: the “Recent Work Test” and the “Duration of Work Test.”

Recent work refers to credits earned in the years right before you became disabled, and is broken down by age.

  • 31 and older: you need to have worked 5 out of the 10 years before your disability, or earned 20 credits.
  • 24 to 21: worked 4 of the last 8 years before your disability, or earned 16 credits.
  • Under 24: worked 1.5 of the last 3 years before your disability, or earned 6 credits.

Duration of work is similar, but your hours do not have to fall within a certain period of time. People who became disabled before age 28 generally must have worked for 1.5 years, while people of age 60 or older require a 9.5-year work history. For the full chart, visit page 6 of the Social Security eligibility brochure.

Remember, you could still qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if you do not have enough work credits to receive SSD if you can demonstrate financial need.

Income Limits for SSD and SSI Benefits

Your assets, unearned income, and income earned by your spouse do not affect your eligibility for SSD—unlike SSI.

However, if you engage in “substantial gainful activity” or SGA (earning more than a certain amount of money per month), you will not be eligible. In 2014, the monthly cap on SGA was $1,070 for most applicants and $1,800 for the blind.

Money gained from your spouse, interest, or investments does not count toward your monthly SGA limit.

People applying for SSI need to have less than $2000 ($3000 for couples) in assets and an extremely low income.

Eligibility For Dependents

Many times, an entire family can receive benefits from SSD if one or both parents are eligible.

Minor, dependent children and stepchildren, and sometimes grandchildren and step-grandchildren are eligible for auxiliary SSD benefits until they turn 18, or 19 in the case of full-time students.

Spouses and ex-spouses of the disabled can also get auxiliary benefits if they care for the disabled worker’s children, up until the child turns 16. If the child is also disabled, the parent can receive disability insurance as long as the condition continues.

The spouse of a disabled worker on SSD can get auxiliary benefits if the spouse is over 62 years old and they cannot get benefits on their own.

Impairment-Related Work Expense Deductions

For those who are disabled but still choose to work (as long as they are earning less than the SGA cap), they are able to deduct certain items and services from their monthly earned income. To be eligible for deduction:

  • It must be necessary for work;
  • It must be necessary because of your impairment;
  • You are not already being reimbursed for the item or service (Medicare, Medicaid, etc.); and
  • Its cost is reasonable compared to other items or services in your local area.

Categories available for deduction vary, and include transportation, attendant care services, medical devices, and changes to your home—but remember, they MUST be work-related.

How To Apply

You may apply online for disability insurance—no need to make an appointment. Before you begin, view and print the application’s checklist to verify your eligibility and organize your information.

You can also call 1-800-772-1213 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday to Friday to apply by phone, or TTY 1-800-325-0778 for the deaf and hard of hearing.

To apply in person, find your local Social Security office, but make sure to call first to schedule an appointment.

Disability Benefits Without a Struggle



Get The Disability Benefits You Deserve Without a Struggle



The Struggle

Nearly one out of four Americans will become disabled before they retire. Yet should these disabled citizens apply for benefits, there’s a 65% chance they will get denied. There’s also an excellent chance that they will become so vexed with the process of applying for benefits that they will tear up those tedious fill-in-the-blank forms, break a Bic pen over their forehead (if they don’t stab their eye out with it first), and bask in their physical suffering as a reprieve from government paperwork and obstinate administrators. In other words, getting approved for disability benefits is a huge pain.

Case in point, Social Security follows what’s called a “strict definition of disability.” This means that they approve or decline your application based on rigid standards. For example, they won’t consider the complexity of your disability, how it might limit you in some ways but not in others. In short, Social Security will deny you unless you meet the following criteria:

  • You cannot do the work you did before
  • You cannot adjust to other work because of your medical conditions, and
  • You are expected to be hindered by your disability for at least one year, or expected to die from it

Now, you can appeal these incipient decisions. But keep in mind that for every appeal you make you also effectively add more time to the application process. In fact, before you apply for disability benefits at all, consider the average application timeline. And plan accordingly.

  • It generally takes around three to four months to get an initial decision.
  • If you’re rejected, it may take another three to four months to process an appeal.
  • If you need an administrative judge to review the case, expect another seven to 22 months.
  • If you need to appeal that decision within the Social Security system, it may take another year.
  • If you need to appeal to the Federal district court, it might take another eight months or so.

Sounds dire, right? Well, not all is lost. If you are disabled, getting SSI or SSDI can and will dramatically improve your quality of life. Here’s the no-bullshit version of how it works.

The Benefit

Should you qualify for SSDI, your monthly payout depends on your average lifetime earnings before your disability began. The more you earned, the more you contributed to FICA (this was deducted from your income before you ever saw a penny), thus the greater your benefit will be. However, there is a cap. And you cannot receive more money based on more serious disabilities (though you can receive slightly more if blind). That said, in 2016 the maximum monthly benefit is $2639. Most recipients, though, receive anywhere from $700 to $1700 per month, the average payout being $1166.

SSI works a bit differently. You do not need to have contributed to FICA in order to receive benefits. Rather, SSI is needs-based and is dispensed to individuals who have little to no income or assets. As of 2015, the maximum payout is $2663 per month, though very few people actually qualify for this amount. The baseline payout for individuals is $700 per month, and $1100 per month for couples. Of course, most recipients receive an amount somewhere between these minimum and maximum thresholds. And in case you’re wondering, you cannot stack SSI and SSDI benefits. You might receive both, but getting the one will negate what you might’ve received from the other.

How To Apply (With and Without the Struggle)

There are at least two ways to apply for SSI or SSDI benefits. One way is to take matters into your own hands. That means you must gather all the information you need, start an online application, then call 1-800-772-1213 (1-800-325-0778 for TTY) to speak to a Social Security administrator to finish your application, between the hours of 7am and 7pm EST. You can also show up at your local office.

Or you can let someone else handle the rigmorale for you. Because, let’s face it, rarely do things go smoothly when dealing with government programs. As such, you might consider finding a local attorney, or working with a group like Nations Disability (ND). ND is an advocacy group dedicated to helping Americans obtain the benefits they’re entitled to. For example, if you work with Nations Disability, they will:

Evaluate your situation
Handle your application
Deal with Social Security for you
And the best part? The evaluation is free and ND doesn’t get paid unless they win your case, so there’s real incentive to get your application approved. But ND is just one such organization amongst hundreds.

If you still have questions, read this form, call 1-800-772-1213, or search around the web. If, on the other hand, you’re ready to begin the application process, simply click the button below.