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 (often at minimum wage) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Many major cities also have their own local organizations or teams working to assist low income or housing insecure populations. For example, case managers in Houston provide a range of housing assistance services for every type of circumstance. Different areas will have a different spectrum of services and assistance available.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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:
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:
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:
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.