Many Americans are struggling to make ends meet in the midst of a pandemic that has rocked our country in so many ways. But even if you take COVID-19 out of the equation, there are plenty of unfortunate scenarios that can happen along the road of life.
For example, you could be laid off without warning or suddenly become a single parent with children to support on one income.
If you need help paying your essential bills, there are many financial assistance programs to help keep you afloat until you can become financially secure again.
Narrow your Emergency Financial Assistance Search by Starting Here:
Getting help can feel overwhelming emotionally and logistically. Where do you even begin? How do you know what programs you’ll qualify for or how to apply for them?
Finding and applying for various financial assistance programs can be time-consuming and confusing. Fortunately, there are some platforms that act as an umbrella service to connect you with numerous benefits and resources specific to your needs.
Benefits.gov is the official benefits website of the U.S. government. It’s designed to connect you with a wide range of government assistance programs. You can search the site for targeted programs, such as disaster relief or immigration and refugee assistance resources.
Alternatively, you can use the “Benefits Finder” tool to quickly determine which programs you might qualify for by filling out a short questionnaire.
United Way’s 211 program
The 211 program is a free and confidential service that can be used 24 hours a day by calling 2-1-1 from any cell phone or landline. You’ll speak with a live, trained service professional who can refer you to local organizations or provide you with information for a range of services.
For example, 211 can connect individuals with support services for domestic abuse, mental illnesses, and rehabilitation programs.
But it also provides information about food and nutrition programs, shelter and housing options, employment and education opportunities, and so much more.
Community Action Partnership
The Community Action Partnership can help you locate a Community Action Agency (CAA) in your area. CAAs are nonprofit organizations that focus on providing resources to impoverished communities.
Your local CAA may provide short-term, emergency aid. This might include helping with housing or transportation expenses or connecting you with healthcare or job training services.
Emergency Financial Assistance Programs Based on Circumstance
A financial emergency can be brought on by a multitude of situations. In some cases, the effects are relatively short-term. But in other situations, you might need more long-term support as you recover from a major life change.
It can be downright terrifying not knowing how you’re going to feed your children, keep a roof over your head or pay for medical care. Here are some emergency financial assistance programs to explore based on your specific need.
WIC. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is available to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women. It’s also available to infants and children up to five years old who are found to be at nutritional risk.
SNAP. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is available to low-income families with limited resources. SNAP benefits are provided on an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card that works similar to a debit card and can be used for certain groceries and nutrition-related items (e.g. seeds and plants that produce food).
Other USDA food assistance programs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides other various nutrition programs, such as the School Breakfast Program and National School Lunch Program. It also has programs designed for adults aged 60 and over.
Feeding America. This network of food banks distributes 4.3 billion meals each year. You can search for a local community food bank or use its additional resources to locate other programs that fit your needs.
Sudden Loss of Income
Unemployment benefits. Unemployment insurance policies vary by state, including eligibility requirements, compensation amounts, and the length of time the benefits are available. However, if you’ve lost your job through no fault of your own, there’s a good chance you can qualify for some level of compensation.
COVID programs. If you’ve lost your income due to COVID-19, there are a number of programs available to supplement your income. Freelancers and self-employed individuals can apply for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) or an Economic Injury Disaster Loan. There are also many profession-based grants available, such as these resources for artists and art organizations. Do a quick online search for your profession and COVID-19 grants.
Help finding new employment. The U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOne Stop can help you locate an American Job Center (AJC) in your area. AJCs provide workforce assistance, such as career guidance and job training opportunities.
Health Insurance and Affordable Medical Care
Medicaid and CHIP. Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provide free or low-cost health coverage for qualifying individuals and families. Although there are income limits, you can still qualify for your state’s program based on your unique situation (e.g. you’re pregnant or have children, you have a disability). So, you should apply anyway.
Affordable Care Act subsidies. If you don’t qualify for Medicaid, you might be eligible for a subsidized insurance plan through the Affordable Care Act (depending on your income).
The National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics (NAFC). This network of approximately 1,400 clinics provides care to medically underserved individuals. Some facilities are free, while other services are based on your income and ability to pay.
Other Sources of Financial Assistance
There are additional government programs and nonprofit resources to address a wide range of situations. For example, Head Start and child care resource and referral centers (CCR&Rs) can provide assistance with childcare costs or education services. There are also programs designed to help pay your rent or mortgage, such as the Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8).
However, depending on your situation, there may be other ways to resolve financial concerns outside of formal emergency financial assistance programs.
For example, if you’re struggling to pay your utility bills, you can contact your utility company directly for potential solutions. They might be able to refer you to available energy assistance programs in your area.
If you’re at risk of falling behind on your credit cards or other monthly payments, communicate your financial hardship immediately. Most lenders will work with you to provide some form of temporary relief (e.g. lower interest rate, new payment plan or approving delayed payment). But you’ll have to initiate these conversations.
Finally, don’t underestimate the power of reaching out to your network of family, friends, and community groups. Most people are willing to help when they know someone is in need. You can always plan to pay it forward once you’re back on your feet.