Government Benefits

Get information on government programs that may help you pay for food, housing, health care, 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.

    Brought to you by USAGov

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

Find government and local disability programs including housing, jobs, education, and health care.

If you receive Social Security disability benefits (SSDI), 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.

Apply for Unemployment Benefits

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

Unemployment Insurance

Am I eligible?

Unemployment insurance programs pay you money if you lose your job through no fault of your own. You must meet your state's eligibility requirements.

How do I apply?

Each state runs its own program. Select your state from this map to find out how to apply. You may be able to file online, by phone, or in person. 

Is there anything else I need to know?

  • Some states provide extended benefits when there's high unemployment. Extended unemployment insurance benefits last for 13 weeks. You can apply for extended benefits only once you've run out of regular benefits. Check with your state; not everyone qualifies.

  • You must report unemployment benefits as income on your tax return.

Other Types of Benefits and Programs for the Unemployed

Educational Help

Federal agencies offer many unemployment education and training programs. They are generally free or low cost to the unemployed.

Self-Employment Help

Self-employment assistance programs help unemployed workers start their own small businesses. Delaware, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, and Oregon offer this program.

Food Stamps (SNAP Food Benefits)

What help is available through food stamps (SNAP food benefits)?

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 for SNAP?

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

How do I apply for SNAP?

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 about SNAP?

  • You get benefits each month on a plastic electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card, which you use like a credit or debit card to purchase eligible food items at your local authorized SNAP grocery stores and some farmers markets.

  • Some states have websites set up for managing your benefits. If your state doesn't have an EBT management website, you can contact your state SNAP office to check your benefits.

How do I file a complaint about SNAP?

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

SNAP Information For Retailers

Learn how to work with SNAP if you are a retailer or if you operate a farmers market.

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 through TANF?

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 for TANF?  

  • 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 for TANF?

  • 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 about TANF?

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

Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

Medicaid is a federal and state health insurance program for people with a low income.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) offers health coverage to children in families with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid, but who can’t afford private coverage. Medicaid and CHIP program names are different in each state.

Medicaid

What help is available?

Medicaid 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 or your family members 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 to apply for Medicaid:

How do I complain?

If you have a problem with Medicaid or CHIP services, you can file a complaint. These programs are managed by each state rather than the federal government. Contact your state's Medicaid program to report your issue.

What additional help is available for children?

If your income is too high for Medicaid, your child may still qualify for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). It covers medical and dental care for uninsured children and teens up to age 19.

Is my child eligible for CHIP?

Rules to qualify are different in every state. In most cases, they 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: August 27, 2019

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