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Government benefits refer to programs created, funded, and run by the federal government and states to help citizens pay for healthcare, food, housing, and basic living costs. Each of these programs has different eligibility requirements, processing time, and a target audience. Find out what the benefits are, the eligibility requirements for them, and how to apply from the relevant offices to receive the assistance you may need.

Here are some of the most prominent and most widespread programs offered.


Government Benefits in the USA


Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)/ Food Stamps

SNAP is the primary federal nutrition aid program. The benefits are given to low-income individuals and families through an Electronic Benefits Transfer card. This card, which works like a debit card, may be used to buy approved foodstuff in authorized retail food outlets.

You can apply for it online (check here for your state) or on a physical form (download here).

The benefits are usually valid for 3 months in 3 years (unless you are working or in a workfare program, among other exceptions). The application takes up to 30 days to process.


Welfare or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

The time-limited TANF program helps families with children whose parents or other responsible relatives are unable to meet the family's basic needs.

States and territories get grant funding to offer families financial aid and associated support programs. Childcare aid, employment preparation, and work support are examples of state-run initiatives under the program.

For applications, visit the county assistance office for in-person or mail applications, or go to the COMPASS website for online applications. TANF is usually valid for 60 months with a 30-day processing time on average and up to 15 days for pregnancy medical.


Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

Millions of Americans, including low-income individuals, families, children, pregnant women, the elderly, and persons with disabilities, are the intended beneficiaries of Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). With the passing of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid coverage went up by 28%, raising the income level and allowing a single adult to be eligible.

For applications, you can speak to your state Medicaid agency or fill out an application via the Health Insurance Marketplace.

The benefits are valid for 12 continuous months for children under CHIP or Medicaid, even with family income changes during the year. We encourage checking the eligibility requirements for each benefit during application.

Waiting periods for processing the application vary from state to state, ranging from one month to 90 days.


Housing Benefits

Housing assistance is intended for low-income families, people with disabilities, and seniors to get affordable private sector or government-owned housing. Under the housing benefits umbrella, the Housing Choice Voucher Program gives applicants certificates to rent approved housing. The subsidy system allows recipients to pay no more than 30% of their income.

The Public Housing Agency also allows families to use a voucher to buy modestly-priced units.

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) gives energy assistance and funds weatherization initiatives.

Applicants can fill out their forms online or fill out an application form delivered via mail or in person. The process varies from program to program.

For more information, contact your local relevant office for each program to get specific details on what you are expected to do.


Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI)

Adults and children with disabilities or blindness with income and resources below certain financial limits are eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI payments are also granted to those aged 65 and over who are financially eligible but do not have a disability.

Applicants can call the Supplemental Security Income agency to file their application at 1-800-722-1213. For the hearing impaired, call the agency at TTY 1-800-325-0778.

For those with severe or permanent disabilities, there is no expiry date for the payments. As long as you remain disabled, you will receive payments to retirement, at which point you are transitioned to Social Security Retirement Benefits.

The processing time is about six weeks on average.


Final thoughts

For the unemployed and the ones looking for employment, the benefits system can give you both practical and financial assistance to make the path less grueling. It also gives supplementary income when your wages are low, which is especially crucial for when you are raising children, retiring, caring for someone, unwell, or disabled.