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Confessions of a Welfare Recipient - Assistance for Low-Income Families
More and more families are facing financial hardships everyday. The loss of a job, a cut in salary, an unexpected health problem leaving you unable to work, or anything else putting you in a position of financial uncertainty. You may qualify for public assistance/welfare. Please read the story below about a family facing similar situations that sound very familiar. Also I have included information on public assistance in between the two parts of the family's story.
A Familiar Story
I am a husband, and a father. I am a hard worker and I have been my whole life. The life I have built for myself and my family has been very rewarding. My wife and I have three beautiful children, Hannah age 10, Cindy age 7, and John age 4. Our lives had been perfect, well at least up until last month. My company downsized because of the poor economy, and unfortunately my job was lost. I qualify for unemployment but it does not pay near as much as my weekly salary did. My wife has taken on a few extra hours here and there, but her part-time job just doesn't pay enough either. We are both looking every day and every night for jobs that will get our heads back above water. The winter is fast approaching and I don't know how we will put food on the table, and be able to heat our home at the same time. I am scared to death. How do I tell the kids they have to eat less or we will be forced to freeze? I am supposed to be able to take care of my family, but the truth is I don't think we can make it. My wife is thinking about applying for welfare. I am afraid we will be labeled "lazy" or be called "free loaders." I know it is there to help, but I am ashamed. My wife said she is going tomorrow to apply, I just hope she is making the right decision.
Facts and Misconceptions of Public Assistance
I will start with the misconceptions that many people have about public assistance/welfare. Alot of times people will be labeled as lazy, not wanting to work, wanting a free ride through life, having babies just to stay in the system, the list goes on and on. By others having these thoughts about welfare it makes it really hard for other people to gain the courage to get much needed assistance. I am not saying that everyone uses welfare as they should, I am aware that people do abuse the system, but what I am saying is that everyone who is receiving welfare are not lazy people. The majority of welfare recipients are good people who unexpectedly fell into hard times. No one should ever have to chose between freezing to death or starving to death. Public Assistance is available to anyone who meets the qualifications. If you meet the qualification you deserve to have the assistance without any judgement passed by others!!!!
Now for the facts that will help clear up some of those misconceptions. The welfare system began in the 1930s due to the Great Depression. The federal government started this program to assist families and individuals with little or no income. People did tend to abuse the system therefore giving welfare and anyone on it a bad reputation. In 1996 President Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress passed a welfare reform law, which gave the handling of assistance back into the states' hands. The passing of this law has made it much harder to abuse the system. You can no longer make it your life purpose to be "lazy". Now I am not naïve, I know people still find a glitch somewhere, but for the most case it is much harder to abuse the system.
States Receive Federal Grants
The Federal government provides assistance through TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). TANF is a grant given to each state to run their own welfare program. To help overcome the former problem of unemployment due to reliance on the welfare system, the TANF grant requires that all recipients of welfare aid must find work within two years of receiving aid, including single parents who are required to work at least 30 hours per week opposed to 35 or 55 required by two parent families. Failure to comply with work requirements could result in loss of benefits.
Eligibity of Assistance
Your eligibility for assistance relies on a few different factors. Eligibility is determined on household income size, and the size of the family. Crisis situations are also taken into consideration such as; medical emergencies, pregnancy, homelessness, or unemployment. You need to file an application for assistance, depending on your area you may be able to apply online, or you may have to visit your local Welfare Office. Then you will be assigned a case worker. The case worker will gather all your information to determine the amount and type of benefits that you are eligible to receive.
If you must visit the office to file an application be sure to bring all necessary documents with you. Most of the time you can meet with your case worker the same day, so it is beneficial to have everything you will need. If you are unsure what paperwork is needed just call in advance for a list of documentation, or check the office's website.
Example of Income Guidelines for Food Stamp Eligibility
Maximum Gross Monthly Income
Max. Monthly Income for house w/elderly or diabled member
Each benefit area has different income guidelines that will look similar to the above example. These guidelines will help you to determine your eligibility. You can receive the guidelines by contacting your local welfare office, the guidelines vary from state to state.
WIC is a program that helps with the purchase of milk, formula, healthly cereals, fruits, and vegetables, etc. for pregnant women, infants, and children. It will assist pregnant women and women who are nursing, and children from age birth - 5.
Types of Assistance
Most states offer basic aid such as health care, food stamps, child care assistance, cash assistance, unemployment, and housing assistance. I will briefly explain each one.
- Medical Assistance - These programs offer different types of medical coverage which range from free to low cost. The programs offered vary from state to state. Most medical assistance programs will cover doctor visits, medical care, dental, vision, prescription drugs, and other services that your doctor thinks are necessary. Any procedures that you can do without or not medically necessary, will not be covered.
- Food Stamps- This program helps families to purchase their food without having to spend money from their income. Food Stamps can only be used for the purchase of food items. It also helps families eat nutritious foods that they may not have been able to afford otherwise. The food stamps are usually placed on a card similar to a debit card and are placed on the card once each month.
- Cash Assistance (TANF)- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families provides cash benefits to families with very low income or no income at all. The cash is supplies to help support children, elderly, or other dependents. You must complete a job training and/or be actively looking for employment in most states to receive this type of assistance.
- Utility Assistance- Depending on your income you may qualify for assistance to help pay for utilities such as electric, water, gas, etc. It depends on what is offered by your state, and depending on where you fall within the guidelines determines whether a portion or all of the utility will be paid for you.
- Housing Assistance- You may qualify for housing assistance which will help you afford a roof over your head. You may qualify for rent free living, or you may need to pay a percentage of the cost of rent. The rest is paid by the housing assistance benefit. You can't just go out and pick where ever you wish to live, you will be given a list of properties that you can receive help with. These properties may be referred to as Section 8 properties, meaning the landlord has a contract with the housing assistance program.
- Child Care Assistance - You can receive help with child care which is beneficial to working families or parents who are attending school. The cost of child care can be almost as much as your weekly paycheck. The amount you will receive depends on the amount you earn. You may be able to receive free child care, or you may be required to pay a fraction of the cost. You have the choice between day care centers, or private persons registered with the child care program.
- Heating Assistance (Liheap) - Heating assistance offers you benefits during the winter months. It will provide you with coal, oil, electric, etc. funds to keep your family warm. Depending on your income determines the amount you can receive. You can generally receive two payments from this program; one from the normal application, and one time in a crisis situation. Crisis meaning you will run out of your heating source within 3 days and can not afford to purchase materials needed.
Family on Welfare
Well my wife just returned from our local welfare office. She told me that we will qualify for food stamps, medical assistance, and heating assistance. What a relief! We will receive $400 a month for food, our children can have the medical care they need, and we will not have to freeze to death. I am glad she went to the welfare office.
2 years later....
I just got hired for a position that pays more than the job I lost two years ago. My wife is still at the same part-time job, and for the past two years I worked several part-time jobs. The assistance we received from the state helped us keep our heads above water. We were able to feed our children and ourselves, and through the long winters we stayed warm. I am on my way to the welfare office to update our information. We will no longer be qualified to receive the food stamps or heating assistance, but we will be covered for a time through the medical assistance until I am eligible for the companies health plan. We did not have an easy two years and it was anything but relaxing, but the fact of the matter is we received assistance and worked our butts off. So do we sound "lazy", because you can not survive on welfare alone, you do need some sort of income coming in or you are worse off than you were before getting assistance!!
Do Not Be Ashamed
If you find yourself in need of public assistance/welfare, do not be ashamed. The help is there for those who are in need of it. You should just view assistance as a temporary crutch to help you through a rough patch of your financial situation. You can and are expected to work while receiving assistance, so don't let someone call you lazy!!! If they do just ignore them, you know how hard you are working and you have to take care of your family. So in all reality someone else's opinion means CRAP!!! By taking help that is offered to you will benefit you in the long run, it will not make you rich, but it will help you keep your head just above water, buying you time to get back on your feet!!