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It’s been 40 years since the US saw annual inflation as high as the first half of 2022. It hit 8.6% in May, a level not seen since 1981, when annual inflation was 8.9 %.
The problem of rising grocery and utility bills is compounded by soaring gasoline prices. Nationally, the cost of regular gasoline jumped to just under $5 as of June 13, 2022, according to AAA data.
For the millions of families who live paycheck to paycheck, rising prices are more than an inconvenience. They can make it difficult to meet basic needs and pay for essential expenses such as childcare, transport and electricity.
“With rising prices for housing, gas, groceries and more, Americans are left with the daunting question, ‘Now what? marketing services. She says government assistance seems like a logical solution, but eligibility in some states and for some programs may be limited.
Each program has its own eligibility criteria. “You may not be eligible for housing assistance, but you may be able to get food stamps,” Wells-Onyioha says as an example.
Here’s an overview of the help available, when to apply, and what to do if you don’t qualify.
Major public assistance programs
The government runs a number of public assistance programs, and these include state-administered federal programs as well as local initiatives.
The following items are more likely to be applicable to those facing a temporary economic crisis.
TANF: Representing temporary assistance to needy families, TANF funds are distributed by the federal government to the states which then decide on their use. The money can be used for cash assistance, transportation, job training, or other needs. TANF programs may go by a different name in each state, such as the Minnesota Family Investment Program, California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWorks), and Work First NJ.
INSTANTANEOUS: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program replaced what was previously known as food stamps. Today, families receive a debit card that can be used to pay for unprepared foods and seeds from approved retailers. SNAP benefits can also be used to pay for produce at participating farmers’ markets.
WIC: Short for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, the WIC program provides food assistance to low-income pregnant and postpartum women as well as infants and children up to age 5. The program has served nearly half of infants born in the United States. in fiscal year 2020, according to the Department of Agriculture.
Medicaid: For those with low incomes and limited assets, Medicaid offers free health insurance. The federal government requires certain groups to be covered by Medicaid, but many states have expanded eligibility in recent years so more people can be covered.
Child care: Government child care programs may be funded by TANF and offer payment assistance for private care providers or access to government Early Head Start and Head Start programs. Early Head Start is for children up to age 3, while Head Start is for preschoolers. Both programs have hours that may vary by state or region. “It can potentially address a child care need,” says Krischa Esquivel, early learning manager for the Child Care Resource Center that serves the greater San Fernando Valley and San Bernardino area of California.
Program eligibility varies by state
Before seeking help, people need to understand the eligibility requirements, as they almost always have income guidelines.
“Most of these programs are based on federal poverty guidelines,” says Mark Reyes, senior director of financial aid for the Albert mobile app.
In the 48 contiguous states, the 2022 federal poverty level for a family of four is $27,750. “It’s a pretty low ceiling to start with,” Reyes says, but he adds that programs are often not limited to those earning less than the poverty line. Instead, they can set their income guidelines as a percentage of that amount, such as 150% of the federal poverty level.
Income limits are only one of the program eligibility restrictions. States may also have asset limits, and in the case of TANF, there is a lifetime cap on the amount of assistance a person can receive. The federal government limits people to 60 months of TANF benefits over their lifetime, but many states have a limit of two to three years. To receive assistance, programs may also have work requirements that state that people must be employed or work a certain number of hours each week.
When to ask for help
People should consider applying as soon as they are struggling to pay their obligations. Since some programs have asset limits, people will want to decide if it makes sense to burn through their savings in order to receive help. It’s also helpful to be familiar with the federal poverty line to gauge your likelihood of being eligible.
Even those who are eligible may be hesitant to seek help. “There are a lot of societal stigmas that are attached to receiving help,” says Reyes.
However, the programs were created for a reason and can serve as a crucial safety net for families who are struggling financially. Refusing to pursue available support could lead to further problems. People under economic stress may become anxious, depressed or turn to substance abuse. In addition, untreated chronic diseases can lead to complications that strain medical systems and can render people disabled.
“These are crazy times and everyone deserves to be fed,” says Wells-Onyioha. After paying into the system, workers should not be ashamed to use the programs their money helped fund. “It’s your taxpayer dollars,” she said.
Where to find help
For those who have never applied for public assistance, the process can be overwhelming. The government’s Benefits.gov website can be a good place to start. It maintains a comprehensive list of assistance programs by state, along with links to additional information.
Although the application process may vary, many states are now accepting online applications for their programs. Some communities have 211 numbers that connect callers to community agencies such as United Way or other referral agencies. For example, Esquivel says the Child Care Resource Center can direct families in its service area in California to other resources if needed.
Not everyone will be eligible for public assistance, but there may be other opportunities for assistance through private organizations. “Thank goodness there are so many different types of self-help organizations and nonprofits,” says Wells-Onyioha. Food pantries, churches, and even schools may offer assistance and have eligibility criteria that go beyond what is required by the government.
Utilities, mortgage companies, and landlords may also have their own programs to help people facing economic hardship. Reyes notes that SoCalGas offers a 20% rebate to income-eligible customers, and he adds that there may be consumer protections in some states that prohibit utilities from disconnecting services under certain circumstances.
While government assistance can provide support during difficult times, families may need to seek a long-term solution if inflation continues to rise. Albert offers a Genius feature to provide affordable access to finance professionals who can help people figure out how to cut expenses and make smart financial decisions, Reyes says. Or there are a number of free budgeting apps that can also be useful for those who want to track expenses and control costs.