Low-Income Assistance Programs and Resources Available
Whether your go-to source for financial information is a blog, an online newspaper, or social media, the internet is plastered with advice aimed to motivate households to max out emergency and retirement funds, save to pay cash for big purchases, cut all unnecessary expenses, and in every other way live ideally. For the 25 million plus low-income households in the U.S., such suggestions sound oblivious to the disadvantages they face.
For instance, lists of budget cutting tips mostly apply to those who have options. Not everyone has luxuries to give up in the first place. Not every family has income that leaves excess after covering needs. Some opportunities are slightly farther out of reach to those who’ve experienced life’s misfortunes. Where are the blog posts addressing these issues?
Today I hope to shine a light on how households can overcome their struggle with low income and push closer to affording equal opportunities.
What is Considered Low Income?
To start, I feel it’s important to examine what low income is considered. Surprisingly, it is entirely possible not to know whether or not your household falls within the parameters.
Thousands of families year after year forego government assistance because they mistakenly assume they don’t qualify. Similarly, college students leave financial aid on the table thinking their families earned too much.
However, according to the federal government, a low-income household sits at 200% of the poverty level or under. This formula is fitted to local economies and adjusted for cost of living. For example, the average low-income family in the U.S. makes $24,000 or under annually but in an area such as San Francisco where the cost of living is a pain point, a family making less than $105,000 is also categorized as low income.
For most low-income families, the issue is less about a number and more about what conditions they battle day to day. Being very familiar with running a household on low income, I would consider these norms as qualifications:
- Living paycheck to paycheck.
- Utilizing credit cards to make ends meet and never fully getting caught up.
- Foregoing medical and dental care because monthly insurance payments are unaffordable.
- Compromising your family’s sense of security in order to keep some kind of roof overhead.
- Stretching your grocery money as far as you can out of necessity and sometimes sacrificing your own meals to ensure your children have enough.
- Always in need of financing solutions such as in-store programs, payday, personal, or car loans.
- Accepting there’s very little money for entertainment, celebrations, or holidays.
Most low-income families avoid monthly subscriptions such as cable, or extravagant phone plans. The clothing budget only goes so far so these families purchase items when and where they can. Low-income homes likely don’t value fancy furnishings but instead act to ensure the availability of food and shelter.
Low income can be a situation that some are born into. It can be a temporary phase in a young family’s or individual’s life. It could be caused by a long-term disability or a consequence of not preparing for retirement. It can swallow entire communities due to cultural cycles and the lack of resources that cultivate change.
No matter the case, low-income populations have the same hope as any other in the U.S.: to prosper. Young individuals raised in low-income homes whether through school or training want to create opportunities for a brighter future. Many who have been at the mercy of renting a place to live dream of the stability provided by housing assistance or homeownership.
Pathways to achieve these ambitions are not always clear or easy to navigate. For this reason, I wanted to lay out some national resources that are often sought by low-income households. Here is information relating to frequently pondered questions:
Will I qualify for low-income housing?
The process of providing low-income housing is handled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
While the HUD income limit varies a bit by area, it generally considers assistance for households with incomes between 50-80% of the median income for the county or area in which they are looking to live.
For a better estimate for your area, you can use this handy calculator on the HUD’s website: HUD income calculator
Where to apply for low-income housing?
Because documents are required to apply for low-income housing, applicants must visit a local Housing Agency (HA) or HUD field office. Government representatives can guide visitors through the application step by step and answers any questions. Find a checklist of necessary records here.
Can low-income families buy a house?
It may seem difficult to acquire a home, but there are many programs that create an opportunity for low-income households to do so.
The Housing and Urban Development department has access to an inventory of homes that are typically more affordable than those that belong to banks or private owners. You can find out more information about the program here: HUD Homes
The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) offers a loan by the same name that helps lower-income individuals get into a home who otherwise wouldn’t qualify for borrowing. Most banks, mortgage brokers, and mortgage lenders can share more information about these loans, although not all can assist in acquiring one.
Generally, FHA loans have a lower minimum for a credit score and down payment and help shift some of the financial burdens such as closing costs and monthly mortgage fees off of the low-income buyer.
You can learn the basics of FHA loans here: Let FHA Loans Help You
It may surprise you but the United States Department of Agriculture is another source of loans that can help low-income families and individuals buy a home. If you would consider moving to a more rural area, this government agency has multiple methods to help you get there.
To help determine eligibility, read the stipulations here: USDA Income and Property Eligibility
Public Housing Assistance
It’s not always the case, but even your local housing assistance office may offer special programs to help low-income home buyers in their area. For example, in some areas the Housing Choice Voucher program is available. Once enrolled, households can use their voucher to obtain a home and receive assistance with monthly expenses. To further research this and other programs, contact your local Public housing Agency.
Can a low-income student afford college?
Absolutely. However, it will take some hustle. Here are three ways low-income students can afford a higher education:
Take College Courses in High School
In the past two decades, high schools have progressively adopted more and more college coursework. Students may be able to take “Advanced Placement” (AP) courses on campus or enroll in special programs that allow them to take courses at nearby colleges. Off-campus courses typically come with a fee. However, this cost is usually even less than what you might pay at a community college for an equal amount of college credit.
AP courses don’t cost much throughout the school year, but in order to earn college credit for the course, the student will need to pay for and pass an assessment test.
It’s not uncommon for students who take these courses to graduate from high school with a year or more of college credit under their belt.
Obtain General Education or Career Training at Community Colleges
One of the main purposes of community colleges is to serve lower-income populations. This, however, doesn’t stop anyone and everyone from taking advantage of their affordable tuition fees. Plus, they give you the ability to take courses at your own pace. This allows individuals to continue their education when they have money to do so or work part or full time while in school.
Apply for as many Scholarships as Possible
Most people, low income or not, are eligible for all sorts of scholarships. They could be based on academics, ethnicity, community involvement, or your desired major in college. Individuals who lack the funding for school would be wise to apply for those scholarships as well as those that target low-income individuals. Stack enough scholarships and you could cover every dime of college expenses.
What are some low-income scholarships?
As mentioned above, scholarships for those from low-income households do exist. Because they are offered from many different sources, the requirements for eligibility can vary. Each of the websites below offer a list of scholarships based on low income.
Pell grants received from FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) applications are one of the easiest forms of financial aid to receive. You can submit your FAFSA application here.
Reduce Your Financial Burden
While the circumstances of low-income households vary greatly, some may be able to relieve their burden by increasing their income or their financial literacy.
The United States Department of Labor has worked hard to provide nationwide access to job training services. These programs can teach individuals the new skills needed to qualify them for better job opportunities.
Additionally, nonprofit organizations such as Debt Reduction Services can provide financial education and counseling to help individuals avoid costly mistakes and better manage even tight budgets. You can call 1-866-688-3328 to receive help or visit our Financial Resource Guide to find additional low-income assistance.
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