Public Assistance Programs

Helping hands
Find help from among thousands of public assistance programs.

There are literally thousands of public assistance programs within each of the 50 states in the U.S. Local agencies distribute aid using funding from 2,036 federal government sources. The Department of Health and Human Services is the largest and most visible supplier of federal funds for benefits commonly known as welfare.

Types of Public Assistance Progams

Welfare in the U.S. can take the form of payments via check or debit cards, loans, subsidies, vouchers and free services offered by government entities and non-profits. The more prevalent forms of public aid include subsidies for food, housing and health care, along with benefits for elderly retirees and disability insurance.

Social Security includes financial support for retirees, the disabled and unemployed people. The program gets funds from payroll taxes under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act. FICA also finances Medicare and Medicaid, which provide health insurance to people age 65 and older, children of deceased workers and people with disabilities.

Welfare for able-bodied people under the age of 65 often requires that recipients look for work or undergo job training. Specific criteria for these aid programs has varied depending on applicants' location since 1997, when the federal government replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. TANF, unlike its predecessor, is administered on the state level rather than nationally. Many states stipulate that people may receive no more than 60 months of benefits during their entire lifetimes, although some only apply that limit to adulthood so that children can receive aid.

Get Food Assistance

Food stamps have developed into debit cards using electronic benefits transfer technology and the name Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP requires applicants to provide proof of residency, a social security number and income meeting the U.S. government's definition of the federal poverty level.

Similar benefits come from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, although like the name suggests, only new or expecting mothers plus children five years and younger qualify. Known as WIC, the program distributes nutritious foods and provides education on healthy eating.

Federal Government Loans and Programs

Although some programs for public assistance have been reallocated to the state, there are still several federally run government aid programs.The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides assistance to alumni of the armed services who served during wartime. The benefits include retirement plans, health insurance, housing assistance, payments to the family of deceased veterans, subsidies for education and loans.

Veterans aren't the only people who can obtain loans from the government. The government provides loans for other types of projects, along with guarantees for borrowers. The Small Business Administration handles such programs, mostly by guaranteeing loans from non-government entities. The SBA directly loans money to homeowners living in officially declared disaster areas.

Direct loans are available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for farming-related projects, the Department of Education, for school tuition, and the Federal Housing Administration, for home buying. To learn more about how to apply for government loans, visit the Web site

Housing Help

Home renters can obtain help from the Public Housing Authority, which offers vouchers and subsidies, along with running apartment complexes that have low rents. The agency has a directory of local offices on its Web site. Renters and homeowners can lower some of their utility bills through Low Income Home Energy Assistance. The program's Web site lists where to apply for the assistance in each state.

Learn More

Given that there are thousands of programs available in every state, a single article about the subject can only scratch the surface. To learn more about the thousands of public assistance programs available throughout the U.S. and in your state, along with details on the nearest place to apply, visit and

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Public Assistance Programs