Government Benefits

Get information on government programs that may help you pay for food, housing, healthcare, and other basic living expenses. Find out about eligibility requirements for programs like food stamps, welfare, and Medicaid, and how to apply for them.

Infographic: Get Help with Living Expenses

Federal government benefit programs can help people with a low income cover basic expenses like food, housing, and healthcare.

Infographic explaining government benefits for people with a low income.

Infographic explaining government benefits for people with a low income. View a larger version of the infographic.

  • If you have a low income and need help with basic living expenses, you may qualify for government benefits to help cover food, housing, medical, and other costs.

    Major Government Benefits Programs

    The federal government creates and gives money to states to run major assistance programs. Your state helps pay for some of these and may offer others too.

    Food

    Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) provides eligible people with benefits cards, used like debit cards, to buy food at authorized grocery stores and farmers markets.

    Other food aid programs offer:

    • Healthy foods to pregnant women, new moms, and kids under age 5

    • Free or low-cost meals or milk to kids at schools and daycare centers

    • Monthly food packages and farmers market coupons to seniors

    Healthcare

    Medicaid provides free or low-cost health benefits to adults, kids, pregnant women, seniors, and people with disabilities.

    Children’s Health Insurance Program (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.

    Housing

    Subsidized Housing, Housing Vouchers, and Public Housing programs help low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities get into affordable private or government-owned rental housing.

    Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps low-income households pay heating and cooling bills and offers low-cost home improvements to reduce those costs. 

    Financial Assistance

    Welfare or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) provides cash for a limited time to low-income families working toward self-sufficiency. TANF may also offer non-cash benefits such as child care and job training.

    Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provides cash to low-income seniors and low-income adults and kids with disabilities.

    Eligibility and Application Requirements

    • All programs have income limits.

    • Most programs require you to be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen.

    • Many programs have other state requirements like a family’s size and financial resources.

    Learn more about who’s eligible and how to apply for these programs at Benefits.gov or your state’s social, human, or health services office.

    Grants and Loans Are Not Benefits

    Don’t believe ads for “free government grants” to start a business or pay personal expenses. The federal government does not give grants to individuals. It awards grants to states, universities, and other organizations.

    You may be able to get a government loan to help with school, housing, and business costs, but you must repay it, typically with interest.

    Learn more at USA.gov/benefits-grants-loans.

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Benefits and Financial Assistance from the Government

If you're looking for immediate or emergency help, your state's human service or social service agency might be able to provide financial assistance or refer you to local community organizations.

Search for Financial Assistance from the Government

Benefits.gov is a free website that can help you determine which types of government assistance you might qualify for and how and where to apply.

  • Using the Benefit Finder, answer questions about yourself and your needs to see if you’re eligible for programs to help you pay for food, health insurance, or other necessities.

Check back with Benefits.gov in the future to see if you’re eligible for additional benefits after major life events and as new benefit programs become available.

Search for Benefits and Programs for People with Disabilities

Beginning December 16, 2016 the Disability.gov website will no longer be available.

If you receive Social Security disability benefits, review these top questions about Social Security.

Search for Benefits for Military Veterans and Their Families

Learn about veterans benefits such as burial, education, health, and housing.

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Apply for Unemployment Benefits

What help is available?

There is a variety of benefit and assistance programs to help you if you lose your job. CareerOneStop.org is a good place to start to get help with unemployment insurance benefits, job training, and finding a job.

Unemployment Insurance

Am I eligible?

Unemployment insurance programs pay money to workers who become unemployed through no fault of their own. You must meet certain eligibility requirements as determined by your state.

How do I apply?

Each state operates its own unemployment insurance program. Select your state from this map to find out how to apply. Many states require you to file for unemployment benefits online, and some provide toll-free numbers or other ways to get help filing.

Is there anything else I need to know?

  • Extended Unemployment Insurance - Some states provide 13 weeks of extended unemployment insurance benefits during periods of high unemployment. Not everyone who qualified for regular benefits qualifies for extended benefits. When a state begins an extended benefit period, it notifies those who have received all of their regular benefits that they may be eligible for extended benefits.

  • Unemployment insurance benefits are taxable - You must report any unemployment benefits you receive as part of your gross income on your taxes. Find more information about taxes on unemployment compensation and forms that you may need.

Other Types of Benefits and Programs for the Unemployed

Educational Assistance

If you are unemployed and receive unemployment benefits, learn about education and training opportunities that may be free or at a low cost to you. 

Self-Employment Assistance

Self-employment assistance offers unemployed workers the opportunity to create their own jobs by starting their own small businesses. This is a voluntary program offered by  Delaware, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, and Oregon.

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Food Stamps (SNAP Food Benefits)

What help is available?

If you have a low income, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as "food stamps," is a federal nutrition program that can help you stretch your food budget.

Am I eligible?

To determine if you are eligible, you must meet certain requirements including resource and income limits

How do I apply?

Find the online application for your state, local office addresses, and phone numbers. You may  also apply in person at a state or local office.

Is there anything else I need to know?

How do I file a complaint?

If you need to file a complaint concerning your food stamps or attempt to get food stamps, the following resources can help:

For Retailers

If you are a retailer or farmers market trying to become authorized to accept SNAP benefits, follow these application steps.

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Welfare or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), also known as welfare, is designed to help families recover from temporary difficulties and move forward.

What help is available?

Recipients may qualify for help with food, housing, home energy, child care, job training, and more.

Each state TANF program is operated differently and has a different name.

Some tribal groups operate their own TANF programs.

Am I eligible?  

  • Each state or tribal territory decides the specific eligibility criteria for financial assistance or other benefits and services.
  • You must be a resident of the state where you are applying.

How do I apply?

  • To sign-up for temporary benefits, you can apply at your local or county social services agency. Call your state TANF office for your local contact information.

How do I report TANF benefit fraud?

If you suspect possible welfare fraud, contact your local TANF office or contact the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector General’s Fraud Hotline.

What else do I need to know?

If you receive TANF, you may be eligible to receive other government benefits.

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Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) names vary state by state.

What help is available?

Medicaid is a joint state and federal health coverage program that provides free or low-cost medical benefits to eligible low-income adults, children, pregnant women, seniors, and people with disabilities.

Am I Eligible?

Check with your state’s Medicaid office to see if you are eligible for benefits. In general, it depends on at least one or a combination of 

  • Age
  • Income level
  • Number of people in your family
  • If you are pregnant or have a disability 

How Do I Apply?

There are two ways for you to apply:

How do I complain?

Learn how to file a complaint.

What Help is Available for Children?

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) covers medical and dental care for uninsured children and teens up to age 19 for families with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid.

Is my child eligible for CHIP?

Eligibility rules vary from state to state and in most cases depend on income.

How do I apply?

You have two ways to apply for CHIP:

Is there anything else I need to know?

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Last Updated: September 21, 2018