Top 10 government programs for low-income families
The federal government manages safety net programs, also known as welfare programs, to aid low-income Americans and to protect families from poverty. These programs are essentially government subsidies to the poor, which includes savings through the Affordable Care Act, access to affordable housing through rental assistance programs, plus more. To provide more information on all of the benefits programs available to low-income families, we’ve put together this list of 10 government programs available to low-income families.
Major government benefits programs
The federal government provides the funding for welfare programs, while states administer them and provide additional funds. Recipients must prove their income is below a set amount, which is some percentage of the federal poverty level. Currently, that’s $24,858 for a family of four (2 adults and 2 children).
There are a handful of major benefits programs in the U.S. They include Food Stamps, Medicaid, CHIP, Housing Assistance, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and subsidies through the Health Insurance Marketplace.
1. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP)
SNAP or Food Stamps provides eligible people with a benefits card, used like a debit card, to buy food at designated grocery stores and farmers markets. The SNAP program gives food vouchers to 47.6 million people or 23 million households. They receive $133 a month on average.
In addition to SNAP, there’s a food stamp program for nursing mothers and young children called The Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). WIC provides food or vouchers, education, and referrals to help feed pregnant women and children up to age six. In 2017, 7.7 million people received WIC each month.
For school-aged children, there is the Child Nutrition Program, which provides free or reduced-cost lunches to 30 million children.
2. Affordable Care Act (ACA)
Through the Affordable Care Act, millions of people have gained access to health coverage through Medicaid and the Marketplace. Before the ACA, most states did not give health coverage to adults without children, no matter how low their incomes were. The ACA also allows children to stay on their parents plan up to 26, which provides access to more young adults who may not have been able to afford coverage on their own.
To make health coverage more affordable, the ACA includes two different subsidies for individuals and families. It also requires that most health plans cover preventive care—like vaccines, birth control, blood pressure tests, cancer screenings, and more—at no additional cost. One essential part of the ACA is that it protects people with pre-existing conditions from being denied health insurance. Before the ACA health insurers could deny anyone insurance based on pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or cancer.
To find out if you’re eligible to enroll outside of the annual Open Enrollment Period, you can use HealthSherpa’s Screener Tool.
Medicaid is the nation’s public health insurance program for low-income individuals and families. The program provides free or low-cost health benefits to adults, kids, pregnant women, seniors, and people with disabilities. The Medicaid program covers 1 in 5 Americans, with a broad array of health services and limits enrollees out-of-pocket costs.
Medicaid finances nearly a fifth of all personal health care spending in the U.S. In 2016, Medicaid covered over 76 million low-income Americans. Children account for 43%, or more than four in ten, of all Medicaid enrollees, and the elderly and people with disabilities account for about one in four enrollees. About half of all U.S. births are paid by Medicare.
The Affordable Care Act increased Medicaid coverage by 28 percent. It raised the income level and allowed single adults to qualify.
4. Child’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
CHIP offers free or low-cost medical and dental care to uninsured kids up to age 19 whose family income is above Medicaid’s limit but below their state’s CHIP limit. In addition to Medicaid, six million children received additional benefits from CHIP. It covers hospital care, medical supplies, and tests. It also provides preventive care, such as eye exams, dental care, and regular check-ups.
5. Subsidized Housing, Housing Vouchers, and Public Housing Programs
Housing Assistance helps low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities get into affordable private or government-owned rental housing. It provides 1.2 million units of public housing. The Housing Choice Voucher Program gives certificates to rent approved units. The subsidy allows recipients to pay no more than 30 percent of their income. Local agencies administer it to 2.2 million renters. This is the old Section 8 program. The Public Housing Agency allows some families to use the voucher to purchase a modest home.
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides energy assistance and weatherization programs. It provides $3.4 billion in block grants to the states.
6. Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI)
Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI) provides cash to low-income seniors and adults and kid with disabilities. It helps the aged, blind, and disabled to buy food, clothing, and shelter. On average, roughly 8.4 million people receive $536 per month. Of those, 7.3 million are blind or disabled.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
7. Welfare or TANF
These provide cash for a limited time to low-income families working toward self-sufficiency. TANF may also offer non-cash benefits such as child care or job training.
TANF provided income to 2.5 million recipients in 2017. Of these, 1.9 million were children. On average, a three-person family received $447 a month. Despite this help, they still live below the poverty line. Families who receive TANF must get a job within two years and can only receive this benefit for five years or less in some states. In addition, they might not get more money if they have another child and can not own more than $2,000 in total assets.
Additional Federal Programs For Low-income Families
In addition to the major welfare programs, some benefits help individuals and families with income, education, and health.
8. Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
Earned Income Tax Credit is a tax credit for families with at least one child. They must make less than $51,567 a year to qualify. In 2012, over 27 million received credits totaling $63 billion. That’s a little more than $2,335 per taxpayer. EITC lifted 6.5 million people out of poverty, half of whom were children. It costs just 1 percent of the amount paid out to administer it.
9. Head Start
Head Start is a free or reduced cost program that provides comprehensive early childhood education, health nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children, birth to 5, and their families. In 2016 the program serviced nearly one million children and 1.4 million child care programs.
10. Federal Pell Grant Program
The Department of Education runs the Federal Pell Grant Program to promote postsecondary education (college and trade school) for students from low-income households. Grants are similar to a scholarship and do not need to be repaid. They are designed to go to undergraduate students based on factors such as the cost of attendance at the school and expected family and student contribution. In 2017, there were approximately 4800 participating postsecondary institutions and grants were awarded for amounts between $592 and $5,920, with the average award totaling $4,050 per recipient.
If you or your family are in need of assistance, visit the organization to find out if you are eligible for each benefit.
For questions about the Affordable Care Act, health insurance, or to enroll in a Marketplace healthcare plan, let us help. Our Consumer Advocate team is happy to help anytime, give us call at (855) 974-5045.