How to Apply for Welfare

By Dana Hinders , last updated June 27, 2011

If you are struggling to meet your monthly expenses due to illness, unemployment, or a sudden change in your financial circumstances, you may find yourself wondering how to apply for welfare. Many people are embarrassed to ask for assistance when they are struggling, but it is important to remember that these programs are available to provide you with the resources you need to get through a difficult time. Do not let foolish pride get in the way of meeting basic needs for you and your family.

The first step in applying for welfare is to decide what type of benefits you are interested in receiving. There is no single welfare program; public assistance is available through a collection of different programs. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) provides cash assistance for eligible participants. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly referred to as food stamps, provides a stipend for purchasing food items. Medicaid offers assistance with healthcare expenses. Section 8 assistance provides subsidized rental units for people who are struggling with high housing costs. It is possible to receive assistance from each of these programs or from just one program, depending upon your financial need.

Although the money for public assistance programs comes from the federal government, programs are administered by each state. To apply, you will need to visit your state’s benefit office. Common names for welfare offices include the Department of Human Services, Health and Human Services Commission, Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, or the Department of Public Welfare Office.

You must be a citizen or meet specific immigration requirements to receive public assistance, although parents can receive assistance on behalf of children born in the United States regardless of their own status. TANF is only available for families with minor children in the home, but you do not need to have children in order to receive SNAP, Medicaid, or Section 8 housing assistance. TANF also has requirements regarding participation in paid employment, work readiness training, and parenting classes that may be applicable to your situation.

Income guidelines for welfare programs are based on the federal poverty line, which is determined by the number of people in your family. To verify your income, you'll need to provide pay stubs from your job or a signed letter from your employer. If you are self-employed, you will need to provide your tax return from the previous year. If your business is new, or you expect significant changes in your income, you will need to provide copies of invoices and expense reports. Ask your caseworker for details.

Public assistance programs also consider your available resources. This includes things such as the value of your vehicles and the money you have in a savings account. Proof of your assets will likely be required when you return your application.

When applying for welfare, the most important thing to remember is that you must be completely honest on your application. Lying to receive government benefits that you are not legally entitled to is a crime. People convicted of welfare fraud can be sentenced to prison and/or required to repay the value of the benefits that were illegally obtained.

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