Federal Programs That can Help During Financial Emergencies


If you’re struggling to make ends meet, it’s important to take good care of yourself. Asking for help is a sign of strength and maturity. One source of assistance is the “safety net” offered by the U.S. government. These programs can help you acquire necessities like food, health care and even housing. Here’s a primer on the types of programs available and how to access them.

Food assistance
If paying for groceries is a concern, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can help. SNAP eligibility depends on your household’s size and income. If approved for this program, which is also known as FoodShare in Wisconsin, you’ll receive a special debit card to use at supermarkets, convenience stores and other grocers.

Learn about federal programs available to you.

Each month, your card gets loaded with the amount of money your household is qualified to receive. These funds, which are sometimes referred to as food stamps, only work for certain types of food and household products. You’ll need to pay out of pocket for ineligible items such as soap and vitamins.

If you’re pregnant or have children age 5 or younger, you may qualify for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). This program can help you pay for nutritional basics like baby formula, milk, fruits, vegetables and cereal. Plus, WIC provides access to counseling and other services for new moms and kids.

State agencies and local organizations also provide food assistance through food pantries, community meals and more. Read our state resources article to learn about some of these options.

Health insurance
Medicaid provides medical coverage for more than 65 million people who cannot afford health insurance. It also helps many people pay for prescription drugs. Program eligibility is determined by household income and other factors such as age, pregnancy and disability status.

If you’re approved for Medicaid, you’ll need to list it as your health insurance when you request medical care. You’ll also need to verify that your health care providers accept Medicaid payments before you receive medical care or mental health services.

Even if you don’t qualify for Medicaid, other members of your family might be eligible for federally funded medical assistance. If you have kids, they may qualify for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). This program assists families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid but still need financial assistance for health care. Children age out of the program when they turn 19.

Housing services
Most federal housing assistance is designed for people who rent their homes. If you can’t afford your rent and meet eligibility requirements, the Housing Choice Voucher Program, or Section 8, might be able to help. Each month, this program sends your landlord a voucher that subsidizes part of your rent. You pay your landlord the portion the voucher doesn’t cover.

Other federal housing programs exist as well. Many are designed for specific situations such as renting in a rural area or in a government-owned property for low-income individuals. To qualify for these programs, you’ll need to fulfill eligibility requirements.

Other programs and resources
Some federal assistance programs are operated by state agencies. This includes Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which supports families who can’t afford basic needs but are on a path to self-sufficiency.

If an injury or disability prevents you from working, you can apply for disability benefits, including cash assistance. Children with disabilities may also be eligible for benefits. To prove your eligibility, you’ll typically need to provide medical records and employment information.

The federal Social Security Administration administers long-term disability benefits for people who are unable to work for a year or more. State governments usually provide shorter-term disability benefits. Some also provide specialized assistance for kids with disabilities. Wisconsin’s Katie Beckett program is an example.

Remember, the federal government is just one resource if you’re struggling to pay your bills or put food on the table. You can also find a helping hand at state agencies, nonprofit organizations and UW Credit Union.

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