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4 Low-Income Programs That Every Family Should Know About (In Case Times Get Tough)

There are many programs that provide financial assistance to low-income families, especially those with children. The basic programs provided by all states include SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps), Medicaid, CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), and child care assistance. Here is a description of each program and the benefits they offer:

1. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

This program used to be called the food stamp program. It provides financial assistance for purchasing food. To be eligible, gross family income cannot exceed 130 percent of the poverty level. For a family of four, this amount would be limited to $2,498 a month, along with a limit of $2,000 in resources such as a bank account. A family of four would qualify for monthly SNAP benefits up to $668.

2. Medicaid

Medicaid is a health program provided by the U.S. government for low-income families. It is a government insurance program for low-income adults, their children, and people with disabilities. People who qualify for Medicaid will receive insurance coverage for medical expenses, and additional benefits such as nursing home care and personal care services. Qualifying Medicaid recipients will also receive financial assistance to pay for prescription drugs.

Guidelines vary with each state about who qualifies for Medicaid. In the state of Illinois, for example, the FamilyCare program covers doctor visits, specialty medical services, hospital care, emergency room services, prescription drugs and more. A family of four would qualify for Medicaid benefits if their monthly income did not exceed $2,610.

3. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

TANF was previously known as the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. It provides cash assistance to needy families with dependent children. The cash assistance is to help them get back on their feet and become self-sufficient. Income requirements vary by state. The income limits in Georgia, for example, are below $784 a month for a family of three (mother and two children) and no more than $1,000 in assets. In Georgia, an eligible family may receive TANF benefits up to 48 months. This, too, can vary by state.

4. The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

CHIP provides free or low-cost health coverage for children up to age 19. It covers doctor's visits, immunizations, hospital care, dental care, and lab and x-ray services for children. In general, incomes are limited to up to $44,100 per year for a family of four, but interested applicants should check for specific guidelines within their state. Depending on income and number of family members, this benefit can be either at no cost or for a very low monthly premium.

For more information on these and other low-income benefit programs, you can call your state government office. The number will be listed in the yellow pages under Government Listings/State Government Offices.

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