Resources for Those Living in Poverty

Every year, the government releases a report on income and poverty in the United States. According to the most recent report (2017), 39.7 million people live in poverty across the country. Although that number has decreased slightly since 2016, the number is still outrageously high for the United States. Overall, about 12.3 percent of Americans are believed to be living below the poverty line set by the Census Bureau.

For many people, living below the poverty line means working multiple jobs in order to support children and spouses, and finding ways to cut back on costs in order to pay bills. However, there are also those even less fortunate: people who are homeless and struggle to hold down a job due to mental or physical health concerns that cannot be treated without affordable healthcare options. There are also those below the age of 18 that have run away from unstable homes or been forced out for various reasons: unable to find shelter and struggling without a support system.

No matter what your situation may be, there are some government-provided social services and nonprofit organizations that are specifically designed to financially help people in need. Unfortunately, many of these services carry some social stigma, as there’s an assumption that the people that utilize them are entitled or lazy. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, as these programs are designed specifically to elevate people out of dire situations and help them meet some of their most basic needs: food, water, shelter, rest, and improved health. If you feel you are struggling financially and living below the poverty line, consider this list of resources that may help you in your time of need.

Direct Help Resources

This list of resources is targeted at your most basic needs: healthcare, food assistance, education, and shelter. For many people living under the poverty line, even their most basic needs cannot be met due to their lack of income. Many of these services were created by the government in order to help alleviate some of that burden. However, they also come with some strict rules and regulations, and many of those regulations may vary state to state.

This list will provide some general information on each service, but be sure to check with your local state department for any local laws that may pertain to your situation.

Health and Mental Health

Healthcare in the United States is expensive. Private healthcare is a very common form of healthcare coverage, but it is often provided by an employer, only required for full-time employees in many states, and requires an additional fee in order to obtain coverage for each member of the family. For many low income individuals, affordable healthcare is unobtainable. Additionally, medical services can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, which has made medical debt one of the leading causes of filing for bankruptcy in the United States. Of course, being unable to pay for medical bills can lead to a host of other issues, including a negative effect on your credit score, potential lawsuits, and more.

Luckily, there are some healthcare services that are specifically designed for low income individuals and families. Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that provides healthcare to those in need, and approximately 72.5 million Americans utilize the services provided by Medicaid. It is the largest medical health care provider in the nation, and low income families, as well as certain pregnant woman and those on Social Security Income (SSI), are examples of mandatory eligibility groups. Medicare is a similar service, but is reserved specifically for those over the age of 65.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that each state can have varying laws on who is eligible for Medicaid or Medicare. Be sure to check with your local state office to ensure you are eligible.

  • Medicaid Eligibility — Use this link to check your eligibility for this essential service, and check with your local state Medicaid office to ensure you qualify within your region as some states have different requirements for eligibility.
  • Doctors that Accept Medicare and Medicaid — If you already have Medicaid or Medicare, or you find that you qualify for either service, then use this link to determine which physicians in your area accept Medicare or Medicaid.

As for mental healthcare, the Affordable Care Act ensured that any mental healthcare needs are treated in the same way as traditional healthcare. Medicare and Medicaid will cover some mental health services, but there are also charities and national hotlines that can provide immediate help for those in need.

  • NIMH Mental Health Help — The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is a research funding organization, but they do have a website full of information on mental health resources. This includes information on eligibility for those on Medicaid or Medicare, information on clinical trials, and numbers for hotlines that can provide immediate help.
  • Mentalhealth.gov Immediate Help — If you or a loved one is currently struggling and in need of immediate assistance, use these hotlines to contact mental health and medical professionals that can help provide guidance through your situation.

If you find you are not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare, you still have options at your disposal to help you pay for medical bills. You can read more here:

Nutrition

Many people across the country struggle to afford groceries and food in their area, either due to scarce resources or lack of income. Food, health, and finances are closely tied, but location can also play a key role in what food is available to the local population.

Food deserts are urban areas where affordable and fresh food (such as fresh fruits and vegetables) is hard to come by, either due to cost or lack of grocery stores in the area. Many low income individuals struggle with food deserts, and some food assistance programs have been created to help alleviate those issues.

However, even if food is not scarce, people can still struggle to afford quality food. In those cases, there are programs set up to help low-income families receive the nutrients they need. Commonly known as “food stamps,” the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is designed to help low-income families or those struggling with unemployment stretch their food budget.

  • Food Assistance Programs from Nutrition.gov — Here is a list of all the food assistance programs offered by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which is a division of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This includes programs for children, nursing mothers, seniors, and low-income families.
  • Food Assistance from USA.gov — This is a list of the food assistance programs offered by the USDA throughout the country, as well as information how to apply, how to file a complaint, and how to seek out immediate help with food if you’re in a dire situation.
  • NAEHCY Nutrition Resources — The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) has compiled a short brief on the resources available to young children and teens that don’t have access to proper nutrients. This includes information on SNAP and School Breakfast or Lunch Programs.
  • Feeding America: Find Your Local Food Bank — This interactive map can help you find your local food bank, which can offer free meals or further assistance through their public programs.

Education

Education can be one of the biggest barriers to income, as without a proper education many people may struggle to find employment and income. However, there are many Americans that struggle to gain access to free public education, even in 2018. Distance to school, access to food assistance, and lack of shelter can all be barriers that prevent kids from attending public school.

However, the Department of Education is devoted to helping all children get the free public education that they deserve, and there have been a handful of programs created to help bridge the gap in educational access, despite any potential barriers. These programs can include transportation to and from school, food assistance programs provided by the school, and short-term programs aimed at helping those suffering from a natural disaster, such as Hurricane Harvey or Hurricane Irma.

  • National Center for Homeless Education — The National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE) operates the U.S. Department of Education’s technical assistance and information center for the federal Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) Program. This website further explains some of the programs offered to homeless youth — dependent on their location, legislation, and more. They also offer an NCHE helpline and training resources.
  • U.S. Department of Education — This resource describes the eligibility, resources, and application process for Education for Homeless Children and Youths (EHCY) — also known as the McKinney-Vento Act. This act was designed to help provide funding to each state to ensure homeless children have access to transportation, immunization, food, and other essential needs while they are attending public education. This act is designed to be used by local offices only, but you may contact your local office and ask them to apply for the grant in order to provide education for your child.
  • NLCHP Education Resources —  The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) provides this thorough resource that explains homeless youth educational programs and laws, as well as information on how to file a complaint with legal assistance.

Housing

Another essential service that humans need is shelter, but in many cities it can be nearly impossible for low-income people to find adequate and affordable housing. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a part of the executive branch of government, and controls both urban development as well as housing assistance programs.

Housing assistance can come in multiple forms, and HUD offers both rental assistance with low-income rental housing or apartments, as well as public housing in some cities and states. These programs can be especially useful for low-income families that are struggling to pay rent, as well as those with disabilities that need assistance finding affordable ADA compatible homes. However, it’s important to keep in mind that disability housing often falls under different qualifications and requirements. Check out our resource on Disability Housing Programs for more information.

  • HUD Rental Assistance — HUD offers some rental assistance — either through public housing or privately owned rentals — for low income individuals and families. Eligibility and rental coverage depends on your state’s local laws as well as the cost of living and number of public housing options in that area. Visit this website to find out more about what is offered and how to contact your local public housing office.
  • HUD Public Housing Information — This website offers general information on what public housing is, who is eligible, how to apply, and other information that may be pertinent to your situation.

Homelessness

Unfortunately, not everyone qualifies for housing assistance, and some people may have to be placed on a waiting list due to high demand and limited housing in their area. For those that cannot wait and are currently in need of shelter, there are many nonprofit and charity-run homeless shelters across the nation.

  • Homeless Shelter Directory — Use this resource to find homeless shelters in your local area. The interactive map will show you the shelters in each city, as well as their phone number, location, and any additional services that these shelters may offer (such as emergency services, religious counseling, addiction recovery, etc).

The HUD also tracks and monitors assistance programs aimed at helping those struggling with homelessness. There are programs that are specifically designed for families, individuals with disabilities and those with mental health concerns, as well as programs for seniors in need of affordable housing.

The HUD also works with and helps fund local Public Housing Authorities/Agencies (PHA) across the nation, many of which will have an office in each state and in many large metropolitan cities. PHAs are locally run, non-profit organizations that work in conjunction with local, state, and federal laws in order to provide affordable housing and develop long-term housing strategies for communities.

  • U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Resource Locator — This interactive map can help you find PHA offices, homeless resources, affordable housing, elderly and special needs housing, and HUD offices near you.
  • HUD Exchange Homelessness Assistance Programs — This resource includes an interactive map that can help you find assistance programs in your area, often run by CoC’s, or Continuum of Care Programs. Additionally, this resource tracks data on homelessness, the amount and price of grants being allotted to specific cities, provides contact information for programs, and details the specifics of each homelessness assistance program.

Unfortunately, there are also specific demographics that are more at risk for homelessness and need additional assistance. Here are two resources aimed at helping the most at-risk populations:

  • Youth Homelessness – Youth.gov — This resource further defines some of the laws and federal programs that help the youth homeless population receive adequate shelter, food, and education. This can include transitional living programs, maternity services and group homes for pregnant teens, and foster care programs.
  • Homelessness Programs and Resources by SAMHSA –  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provide programs that increase access to disability income benefits for eligible adults who are experiencing currently or are at a high risk for homelessness. This resource further defines those programs and resources, and provides eligibility and contact information for each.

Living in Poverty

Unfortunately for many people, poverty is a vicious cycle. In addition to educational barriers there are also many systems of power in place that can further exacerbate poverty, such as the racial wealth gap, lack of affordable healthcare, and the gender pay gap. Breaking out of poverty can seem nearly impossible, as cost of living skyrockets and wages continue to stagnate.

When living on a limited income, it can be difficult to adjust your budget to meet your needs; your bills often take most of your useable income away, leaving little for clothing, food, and other necessities. Some federal programs — such as SNAP — can help cover those gaps in income, but money can still be tight for many families. Because of this, there are plenty of financial mistakes that families may make in an attempt to make ends meet.

Budgeting

For many families and individuals living under the federal poverty line, budgeting is an essential aspect of controlling and monitoring their finances. However, even with a strong budget, many people may struggle to pay bills and make ends meet. How should you build a budget if you’re barely scraping by?

Below are a few resources that may help you, including data collected on expenses for the typical family, a family budget calculator, and how to create a budget on a limited income. Budgeting can help you visualize exactly where your money is going, set realistic goals for yourself, avoid overspending or overdrafting your bank account, and limit the amount of money you’re spending on non-essential items.

  • How to Create a Personal Budget — If you’re not sure where to start, this resource can help you calculate a personal budget — comparing your income with your fixed expenses, and providing help on how to save money if you can.
  • Budgeting for Basic Needs — A study published in 2009 by the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) that lays out the basic necessities for families and shows examples of “bare-bone” budgets. Child care and housing are often the largest expenses, followed by transportation and health care.
  • Economic Policy Institute (EPI): Family Budget Calculator — The EPI has created a budget calculator to help families and individuals on a limited income plan out their month-over-month expenses, as well as their annual spend. This information can also help families who are moving towns decide if they can afford the cost of living in a new city.
  • How People Spend Their Money — This article by NPR compares how the rich, middle class, and low income spend their money month-over-month. The study shows that low-income families spend more money on basic necessities than any other demographic.

Avoiding Predatory Industries

Unfortunately, there are companies that have been created for the sole purpose of profiting off vulnerable individuals, and it can be easy for those living on a low income salary to take advantage of these seemingly innocent industries. The most common predatory schemes are payday loans or cash advance loans — both of which promise the consumer fast cash without a credit check, but carry heavy interest rates and even larger fines if a payment is late (known as “rollover” fees).

There are also “rent to own” scams that promise individuals the ability to own a piece of equipment (such as couch, television, or refrigerator) but end up costing much more than what the product is worth.

Avoiding these predatory industries is essential to protecting your finances, but coping with debt without the help of cash advances can seem almost impossible. If you’ve fallen for predatory schemes in the past, or you were hoping to utilize these services, here are some reasons why you should avoid them, alternatives that may help you, and what options you have for getting out of them now.

  • Rent to Own — Even in the most ideal circumstances, rent-to-own businesses end up costing consumers much more than what the product is worth. This article breaks down some examples of rent to own purchases, as well as why many people gravitate towards this predatory industry.
  • Payday Loan Cycle — This article breaks down the “payday loan cycle” that many low-income families fall victim to due to tight income and lack of funds. They also give tips on how to break the cycle if you’re already in too deep.

Debt

For many low-income individuals and families, they can easily fall into a debt trap without proper budgeting or lack of income. Debt can come in many forms — from student loan debt to credit card debt — and although debt can be essential to helping you build credit and creating a good credit score, it can very easily get out of hand if you don’t have enough money to meet the minimum monthly payments of all your bills.

How should low income individuals and families navigate the choppy waters of debt? Should you consider debt consolidation services or close accounts to avoid overspending? Below are some resources at your disposal to help you cope with debt, find relief, and better plan for paying off overdue loans or credit.

  • Debt Relief Options and Services for Single Parents — Single parents have to pay off bills and raise children on a single income, which can feel nearly impossible to do when you also have debt. Here are some options to help you pay off debt faster or some ways to find relief if you feel like you’re struggling to make ends meet. Additionally, you can check out: How to Pay Off Debt Faster as a Single Mom
  • What Happens if I Don’t Pay Back Student Loans? — Many young Americans are struggling with student loan debt, and everyday about 3,000 people default on their existing student loan payments. Unfortunately, not paying your student loans can come with some severe consequences. What happens when you don’t pay your loans, and how can you recover if you’re in the process of a lawsuit? Additionally, you can read more on wage garnishment here: How to Stop Student Loan Wage Garnishment
  • Fair Trade Commission (FTC): Coping with Debt — The FTC has compiled this useful resource to help low-income families or individuals cope with existing debt, either through self-help means, bankruptcy, or by utilizing debt relief services. Additionally they provide information on fees associated with those services, any potential scams, and any potential consequences that may arise, such as risks and taxable income.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB): Guide To Credit Counseling and Debt Relief — The CFPB has created this resource, which compares and contrasts between debt settlement companies and credit counseling (debt relief) services. They also provide warnings for each and other important information to keep in mind (such as fees).

Poverty and Children

Children are, per capita, the most likely individuals to live in poverty in the United States: a recent report by the United Nations Children’s Fund found more than one in five American children are living in poverty. Poverty also affects children differently than adults, as these growing individuals may struggle with malnutrition, extreme stress, and other issues that can create a long-term impact. Children that were raised in poverty may be more prone to underdevelopment, chronic illness, and mental health issues.

If you or someone you know is under the age of 18 and struggling with poverty, here are some additional resources that may help shed some light on the issue, and provide useful information on what can help:

Poverty and Seniors

Seniors in the United States are often in unique financial situations, with healthcare, retirement, and housing being much less of a “sure thing” than they were in the past. Finding ways to make ends meet on a limited retirement income can be extremely difficult, and many people over the age of 65 are struggling without any retirement savings at all.

Poverty for seniors can be especially dangerous, as many of them are struggling with chronic health issues. Without the help of Medicare or a reasonable income, seniors may further exacerbate their health conditions by avoiding doctors in order to save money. Additionally, housing and large debt can be another major hurdle for them.

If you are a senior living in poverty, or you know someone that is, these resources can provide you with more information and ways to help those in need:

Poverty and Veterans

There are many issues facing veterans in the United States, including healthcare access, the opioid epidemic, high risk of suicides, and homelessness. Unfortunately, many who serve our country are also struggling with poverty, and are uniquely impacted by a low-income.

Luckily, there is a fairly large support network set up for many veterans through the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). However, the VA often has their hands full with all the other issues affecting veterans, and the number of homeless veterans has slowly been on the rise for the first time in seven years. Those at the highest risk for homelessness includes: women veterans, minority veterans, urban dwellers, and those suffering from substance use disorder. The increase in housing costs across the nation as well as potential cuts to funding are some of the biggest dangers to the VA’s programs on improving conditions for homeless veterans.

More information on veteran homelessness, and how you can help those in need or yourself, can be found below:

  • Department of Veteran Affairs (VA): Veteran Poverty Trends — This May 2015 study showcases the data and methods used to determine veteran poverty statistics, and details what demographics of veterans are more likely to struggle with poverty.
  • VA: Non-VA Resources for Assistance — This resource compiles a list of agencies that are aimed at helping low-income individuals and veterans in need, including state, federal, charity, religious, and nonprofit run organizations.
  • National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV): FAQ About Homeless Veterans — This resource defines and explains the aspects of veteran homelessness, including statistics, how the VA helps, and what readers can do to help veterans in need.
  • Project Action for Veterans — The Primavera Foundation has created Project Action for Veterans in order to provide veterans and their families facing eviction or homelessness with temporary housing or financial assistance. This page details their project goals, eligibility requirements, and how to contact them for assistance.

Veteran Poverty by the Numbers — This resource details the increased challenges that veterans face when federal funding is cut to veteran-specific and low income programs. It also includes statistics on veteran homeless based on research from 2011.